CN September 27, 2012

Here’s a succinct explanation of the CHA’s Plan for Transformation:

“Mayor Daley was a very successful politician, and he was faced with a political problem. He had half the people in the city wanting to tear the buildings down because they thought the residents were welfare queens living in high-rise palaces, and the other half of the city wanting to tear the buildings down because they felt the residents were incarcerated victims oppressed by a cruel government bureaucracy. Presented with that dilemma, the consensus point is – tear the buildings down, or look weak…if you take that first step and do the demolition, and think about what’s going to happen later, that’s a politician’s approach to the issue. ”

That’s the view of Ethan Michaeli of Chicago’s on-line Resident’s Journal (and We the People Media) as we seek out a status check on the radical Plan for Transformation.

It was supposed to be a ten-year plan, proposed fourteen years ago, and now it’s essentially a fifteen-year plan with no prospects of being completed soon. But those hated high-rises were demolished, and the plan called for replacement communities that contained a so-called 1/3-1/3-1/3 mix – of public housing residents displaced  from demolished developments, people livng in units with subsidized rents, and people who had bought their units at “market rate”.

It never worked out that way, and as WBEZ’s South Side Bureau reporter Natalie Moore discovered, it’s being re-thought by the new boss.

“The 1/3-1/3-1/3 model is not something that was tested. There’s no social science research around it. It just sounded like a good thing to CHA. For them it was about – they will tell you – it was a deconcentrating poverty, and it’s about poor people and well-off people should live together and live happily ever after…but when I did talk to (CEO Charles) Woodyard shortly after he came to this position, I pressed him on that and to my surprise, he said, well, you know, we have to take another look at this. ”

So what does this mean for two older, very different developments, Altgeld Gardens on the far south side and Lathrop Homes on the North side? Both are slated for radical re-working, including, most likely, major demolition. But activists say this is perfect housing  for Chicago’s huge population of working poor who can’t afford the over $700 the Chicago Rehab Network says is needed for a basic one-bedroom unit in Chicago.

Lathrop “could be rehabbed into any different kind of rental apartment housing” Michaeli asserts, because it has already undergone federal analysis and found to be sound enough to undergo rehab. But neither surrounding neighbors or the remaining residents want to see “market rate” housing built on the site. The CHA apparently does, fearing that anything else might create a new island of poverty. “The curious thing about this,” adds Moore, ” is that you have  a larger community that, I don’t think would be offended by having public housing there. ”

A major reason the Plan hasn’t really come to fruition (other than the demolition of the high rises) is how unrealistic it was, according to Michaeli. At the height of the building boom, he explains, commercial developers were delivering 4 to 5 thousand new units to market every year. The CHA’s plan to replace the tens of thousands of demolished units  was to build 5,000 new units per year. There just wasn’t enough infrastructure  to handle that much construction, he says. And let’s not forget, there was no money for it either.

But despite the significantly changed face of public housing, Michaeli reminds us: “Throughout the plan for Transformation, the pubic housing population in the city has grown. It has not shrunk. But it has grown in the number of people who have housing choice vouchers. You now have more than 130,000 people in the city living in housing-choice voucher-rented apartments. ”

So the CHA, within its 130,00 vouchers and its 25,000 residents in remaining buildings and senior developments, still remains – hands down – the biggest real-estate player in this city.

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About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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