Residential and commercial properties go up at Cabrini-Green site

A number of new buildings are going up on the site of the former high-rises of Cabrini-Green:

It’s coming together already. A Target store opened north of Gerding’s site last fall, and a developer is negotiating to buy a parcel just northeast of the store and may build apartments there, says Chicago-based Baum Realty Group LLC Vice President Greg Dietz, who’s selling the property. He declines to identify the developer. Chicago-based Structured Development LLC and John Bucksbaum are building 199 apartments and 360,000 square feet of retail space on the former site of the New City YMCA at Clybourn Avenue and Halsted Street. And a 190,000-square-foot retail-and-office development and new store for boating retailer West Marine are in the works at Division and Halsted streets.But the biggest opportunity may be the Cabrini-Green site itself as well as other vacant land in the area controlled by the Chicago Housing Authority, a 28-acre patchwork that stretches from Division up to Blackhawk Avenue. This fall, the CHA plans to seek development proposals for the land, where it wants a mix of subsidized and market-rate residential units and retail space. The push could add thousands of apartments and condominiums to the area, spurring more development between Lincoln Park and River North—and even to the west.

“There’s easy access to jobs and amenities and restaurants . . . and really you’re not that far from the lake,” says David Brint, principal at Northbrook-based Brinshore Development LLC, which is building an 82-unit mixed-income apartment building at Division and Clybourn. “It’s likely you’ll see the continued evolution of development all the way to the highway.”…

Yet the CHA will have the most influence over the neighborhood’s future. The authority has committed to add 1,786 public housing units in the area to replace those demolished at Cabrini-Green, a project that includes the still-standing Frances Cabrini Rowhouses between Chicago Avenue and Oak Street. So far, the CHA has brought back about 610 public housing units, with 221 in the planning stage, says Richard Wheelock, director of advocacy at legal advocacy group LAF in Chicago.

This is valuable property and this contributed to the longer fight – particularly compared to other high-rise public housing projects in Chicago – between residents and the CHA about what would happen to the land. Thus, it is little surprise that developers are pushing residential and commercial construction. The real question has to do with the status of public housing units: will the CHA follow through in providing nearby units? While some have been built in new mixed-income neighborhoods, there is a long way to go in providing public housing and it may only get more difficult as new market-rate residents and businesses move in.

Putting together plans for the final redevelopment of Cabrini-Green

All the high-rises at Cabrini-Green are gone but the planning of what will replace them continues:

Next week, CHA officials will hold open houses for developers who will learn what parameters the agency has designed for construction of new housing and retail. The land boundaries are North Avenue to Chicago Avenue and Halsted to Orleans…

Last spring CHA unveiled Plan Forward as a way to wrap up the final stretch. Former CHA CEO Charles Woodyard resigned last fall amid sexual harassment allegations, but also because City Hall became disenchanted with the slow pace of progress.

The goal is for Cabrini construction to start by 2015 on the mostly vacant 65 acres. The Cabrini rowhouses will remain but not be 100 percent public housing – much to the chagrin of many residents. Of the 583 units, 146 have been redeveloped into public housing and will stay that way. The others are empty. Originally, CHA had planned to keep the row houses all public housing.

“We felt that in order for Plan Forward to work, in order to have a very vibrant community and what works for the residents to move toward self sufficiency, it was important to do mixed income. Not to leave that area to be the only secluded area that remained 100 percent public housing,” Brown said…

“We’re adamant that the row houses be rehabbed to 100 percent public housing like it was supposed to be,” [row-house resident activist] Steele said.

This seems like an appropriate path forward based on the prior history of redevelopment at Cabrini-Green:

1. The CHA’s difficult history continues with yet another new leader plus plans that stretch on longer than anticipated with funding problems.

2. The city continues its interest in mixed-income development which gives developers some great opportunities to build on the North Side (and profit) while also providing some public housing units but not having to provide for all of the public housing residents.

3. The public housing residents, particularly compared to some of the other Chicago housing projects, continue to speak out and challenge the city’s plans.

Sixty-five acres of land in this part of Chicago will be attractive to numerous people and I hope the public gets to see the competing proposals.

New study finds CHA’s efforts to relocate public housing residents has found some success

A new report from the Urban Land Institute suggests the Chicago Housing Authority’s efforts to move public housing residents out of public high-rise projects into other housing has been successful in several ways:

A new report released Monday by the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, paints a largely positive picture of the Chicago Housing Authority efforts. The study comes while the CHA is retooling its Plan for Transformation, an ambitious multi-year effort begun in 1999 that broke up concentrated high-rise developments…

Several years ago the Urban Institute told CHA that moving families wasn’t simply a construction issue; to succeed, residents needed services. Popkin said that steep learning curve for CHA has paid off after the housing agency implemented a strong resident service program in 2007.

Researchers say that vulnerable residents need intensive wraparound services to address mental health, low literacy and lack of job skills. The report suggests that residents who’ve received intensive case management have fared better. The services cost about $2,900 annually per household but can increase family stability and reduce depression. CHA families have grappled with the trauma of poverty: physical health problems, anxiety, high mortality rates.

But Popkin said it’s not all a pretty picture. Emphasis on adults has meant that improvements have not always trickled down to children. Relocation has been especially hard on them and causes disruption in school and socially.

“I worry a lot about the kids,” Popkin said. “The services that helped the adults do better don’t seem to have helped the kids. It’s an urgent issue. These are kids who have grown up in families who’ve lived in chronic disadvantage for generations and it’s going to take more than just moving to slightly safer places to help get them on a better trajectory.”

Some young people have struggled academically and have had a tough time adapting to new neighborhoods where they are perceived as outsiders. And they continue to live amid violence. The Urban Institute is currently working on CHA incorporating a dual generation approach at Altgeld Gardens, a public housing development on the southern edge of the city.

You can read the reports for yourself on The Urban Institute website here. It looks like the full story of relocated public housing residents is more complicated than this news story suggests. While there has been good movement on several factors, including more psychological factors like feelings of safety and fighting depression (which is what Popkin and several other authors also report in the very interesting 2010 book Moving to Opportunity: The Story of an American Experiment to Fight Ghetto Poverty), we don’t yet know the long-term effects of relocation. For example, the abstract for Brief 2 suggests:

Those who got intensive case management and supportive services through the Chicago Family Case Management Demonstration have significantly lower rates of depression, better physical health, and higher rates of employment. However, even with these gains, many adults struggle with extremely high rates of debilitating chronic illnesses that prevent them from finding full-time employment and many children still grapple with the fallout from growing up with chronic violence.

Relocation is not a quick fix when there are deeper issues involved including residential segregation, discrimination, poverty, and acquiring social and human capital. As Brief 1 notes, relocated residents would benefit from ongoing services…but this requires ongoing funding.

Update on public housing residents in Chicago mixed-income developments

Chicago and other cities have pursued ambitious plans in the last two decades to tear down public housing high-rises (like at Cabrini-Green) and replace them with mixed-income neighborhoods where public housing residents and market-rate homeowners would live near each other. Here is an update of how this is working out in one mixed-income neighborhood in Chicago:

But the common thread that binds many of these theoretical effects is the same: For them to occur, residents of extremely different incomes must connect on a deeper level than hellos in the hallways. And that doesn’t seem to be happening. Joseph, along with Robert Chaskin of the University of Chicago, documented and analyzed the interactions of residents in two of Chicago’s new mixed-income developments. Far from job networking, most of the encounters between residents were paper-thin. Nearly 25 percent didn’t know a single neighbor well enough to ask them a favor or invite them into their home. In the rare instances of deeper exchanges, like “looking out” for a neighbor with an illness, these interactions occurred almost exclusively between people who were in the same income group…

Community building doesn’t need to mean picnics in the park, however, says Joseph. “It doesn’t necessarily mean everyone becoming friends and having dinner. It means a set of neighbors who appreciate the fact that living in a diverse place means having to build common ground with people who are different than yourself.” He calls this positive neighboring.

If positive neighboring is happening at Parkside, though, so is negative neighboring. The day I visited, a sign taped to one apartment window had a picture of a handgun pointed at me, along with the words, “I Don’t Call 911 — No Loitering.”  There have been reports of market-rate tenants being the targets of derogatory name-calling, and subsidized tenants having the police called on them anonymously for hosting parties. A feature in Harper’s magazine reported that when market-rate families felt threatened by large groups hanging out in the lobby at one mixed-use development, the management removed all the furniture. The same article described the fates of two different Parkside families that held loud gatherings at their apartments one night: The next day, the public-housing unit got an eviction notice; the market-rate unit did not. “They can get buck wild, but as soon as we get buck wild, they want to send an email blast to CHA [Chicago Housing Authority] to complain,” said one of the subsidized tenants.

Critics of the model have asserted that this is what happens when cities engage in “social engineering.” But it might be more accurate to say that the social engineering that the city was counting on isn’t happening. Parkside’s residents might have been more interested in a killer deal than building a community. (The market-rate condo prices, in the $150,000s, are a steal for the location, a mile from downtown and steps from the Gold Coast.) “Could it be — and could people be afraid to admit — that market rate buyers simply don’t want to live right next door to government subsidized renters?” asked one Internet commenter.

This seems to fit with other research that suggests that although people may live near each other, they don’t necessarily interact in ways that are helpful to both groups. This is a sort of “black box” still to be figured out by reserachers: in living with more middle- and upper-income residents, how exactly will public housing residents move up to the working class or middle class? Earlier research suggests this may take some time; kids benefit from going to better schools while adults have a harder time crossing pre-existing socioeconomic and social boundaries.

The article suggests that some look at these mixed-income neighborhoods and call them “social engineering.” Deconcentrating poverty is a goal worked at by a number of groups since sociologists like William Julius Wilson started talking about this in the 1970s and 1980s. HUD has pursued or promoted policies like these throughout the country. It is not like the market-rate residents don’t have a choice in this matter; the housing units can often be cheaper than comparable units nearby. For example, some of the market-rate units in the mixed-income neighborhoods on the former site of Cabrini-Green are quite cheaper compared to units in nearby Lincoln Park or other “hot” neighborhoods. Additionally, the city of Chicago is certainly happy that the public high-rises are gone as they attracted negative attention. (Whether the city cares about the fate of the public housing residents displaced from the high-rises is another story.) Overall, however, some social policy is needed in the area of housing as cities like Chicago offer have severe affordable housing shortages.

Quiet issue: over 60,000 on CHA waiting list

While this story is mainly about why the Chicago Housing Authority has 3,400 unoccupied units, there is another long-running issue here: the CHA has over 60,000 people on a waiting list for housing.

The CHA currently operates 20,000 properties that serve about 57,000 families, but about 3,400 units remain unoccupied. CHA’s wait list was almost 60,000 families as of March…

We are in the business of affordable housing; our goals are generally aligned with those of the (Chicago Housing Initiative),” said CHA spokeswoman Kellie O’Connell-Miller. “But from our perspective, we’re moving forward as quickly as we can. This is a multiyear redevelopment plan. The biggest challenge is the part of the plan that requires some units to come offline.”…

O’Connell-Miller said wait list standings aren’t made public because it’s not a fair assessment tool.

“It’s not a straight numbering system. Placement is dependent on family size and what bedroom need is,” she said. “The turnover varies on what the tenant needs. There are so many variables.”

The CHA is planning to take a fresh look at its Plan for Transformation this year under new leadership, Woodyard said, and welcomes suggestions and input from the community.

There are a couple of problems with this large waiting list:

1. The waiting list has been long for year and has continued to grow. In my article “The Struggle Over Redevelopment at Cabrini-Green, 1989-2004,” here is what I found about the waiting lists:

By 1984, 24,000 people were on CHA waiting lists for apartments, while another 56,000 households were waiting for CHA Section 8 vouchers…

The waiting lists for public housing continued to be long; in 2002, 48,000 families were waiting for public housing, while 38,000 more waited for Housing Choice vouchers.

2. The CHA says they are working on this issue. This might be believable if we haven’t heard similar things for decades and we haven’t seen many projects being delayed. Taking a “fresh look at its Plan for Transformation”? Sheesh.

3. The issue of affordable housing needs to be addressed on a broader scale, preferably throughout the Chicago region. Even if more affordable housing is made available in Chicago, are there good or at least subsistence jobs available in the city? Both cities and suburbs need to work on this. Unfortunately, neither the City of Chicago or suburbs have really shown a willingness to tackle this. See, for example, the contentious of affordable housing in Winnetka and Westchester County.

In sum, even if these 3,400 units were suddenly occupied, there are still over 50,000 people in Chicago looking for housing. This is an issue that needs to be addressed more comprehensively.

A slowed-down Plan for Transformation in Chicago

The Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation is taking longer than expected:

Since 2000, the CHA has been slowly working to transform how poor residents are housed. The $1.6 billion Plan for Transformation was developed to take poor residents out of crime-ridden, dilapidated, mismanaged high-rises and place them in mixed-income communities where they can thrive.

In its agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the CHA committed to restoring or replacing 25,000 units for public housing residents…

Officials blamed lulls in the economy, the collapse of the real estate market and other mishaps for slowing the Plan for Transformation, originally slated to be finished by 2010, reports show. Now the plan is scheduled to be completed by 2015, but some officials have said it could take 10 years beyond that.

This year, officials plan to deliver 845 housing units, which will bring it to 22,008 units completed. And officials expect to complete the master planning process for redeveloping Lathrop Homes on the North Side this fiscal year, reports show.

If you know the history of public housing in Chicago, this should be little surprise, recession or not. The most visible signs of public housing have been torn down, like the Cabrini-Green project and the Robert Taylor Homes, and yet it might take more than a decade to complete the Plan for Transformation. A cynic might wonder if this is all just a public relations matter. It would be interesting to know some more of the details about why exactly this Plan has been slowed down.

For what it’s worth, there is not much talk about public housing these days.