Residents: Lathrop redevelopment leaving us out

Residents of the Lathrop Homes public housing development in Roscoe Village, say they're starting to feel excluded from the effort to determine the future of the complex.

Just a month ago, a working group comprised of city officials, Chicago Housing Authority Staff and community stakeholders began working on a plan for Lathrop. 

But residents say they have only two representatives on the working group,  that most of the panel is comprised of city officials and business partners, and that the group has started making decision without them.

“As it stands, I do not feel it's composed of a fair group that we would have some sort of voice in it, in any kind of decision process they may have,” says Miguel Suarez, Lathrop resident for 20 years and member of the Lathrop Leadership Team.

Juanita Stevenson, president of Lathrop's local advisory commission, is one of two residents in the working group. She says residents need to have more of a say because it’s their community on the line.

“It’s our lives that are being impacted. Our lives are going to change. Our children’s lives are going to change,” says Stevenson.

But housing authority spokesman Matt Aguilar says the composition of Lathrop’s working group isn’t any different than any of the previous groups. The CHA has relied on the groups to chart a course for redevelopment of projets like Stateway Gardens and the Robert Taylor Homes.

“This working group, like the others, is large enough to reflect broad interests, and small enough to work together productively toward the ultimate goal of developing a new mixed-income community,” says Aguilar.

Residents also recently learned that other members of the working group sent out an official Request for Services to developers without their knowledge.

The Habitat Company, which oversees all of CHA’s new construction, issued the Request for Services on April 13. The document asks for responses from firms that specialize in green design and building to prepare from redeveloping Lathrop Homes.

Residents and community leaders say they like the idea of using environmentally friendly practices. What they don’t like is that the proposal went out without their knowledge and without anyone seeking their input.

“We were very frustrated that this went out with out being consulted,” says John McDermott, housing organizer with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

Suarez says the move makes him feel as if the working group doesn’t really matter at all, and that the housing authority has already decided what the end result will be.

“it seems to me that they've already made whatever decision that they were going to make,” says Suarez. “If something were to happen without us included, without the leadership team, I don’t think we could do much about it.”

But Aguilar says the working group was notified in March that the request for services would go out, and that the document isn’t exclusive to Lathrop.

“The CHA and the Habitat Company have been interested for quite some time now in finding ways to increase the opportunity to incorporate more green sustainable features in all of our future projects,” says Aguilar.

Overall, residents and community leaders feel that Lathrop Homes is unique, and shouldn’t necessarily be redeveloped in the same, cookie-cutter way that the CHA has done every other redeveloped public housing site in the city.

Suarez says the community doesn't need one-third market rate units because the neighborhood around Lathrop has plenty of high-end condos and townhomes.

“There's so much market rate in this area. Who needs any more? We just don't need anymore,” he says.

Suarez says his group will be fighting for one—third public housing, one-third affordable rental and one-third affordable home ownership, without any market rate units.

McDermott says Lathrop doesn’t need market rate because the typical mixed-income model assumes a lot of things – that the surrounding community is bleak and racially segregated – two things that aren’t true at Lathrop.

“They’re not questioning the basic composition of the formula,” says McDermott. “If you compare this to a recipe, they’re taking out the same old ingredients.”

Aguilar says the working group has just started and will continue work together to figure out the best plan for Lathrop.

“The working group at Lathrop will proceed like every other working group,” says Aguilar.  “We'll sit in a room with stakeholders, residents, local elected officials, city departments and others to talk about what ultimately will come back to Lathrop.”

Staff Writer Megan Cottrell covers public housing for the Daily News. She can be reached at 773-362-5002, ext. 12, or megan [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.