Local Opinion

Lathrop Homes Should Be Treated Differently From Other CHA Projects

By Aaron Renn | Friday, November 18, 2011

The Juila C. Lathrop Homes. Credit: Flickr/metroblossom

On Wednesday the Chicago Housing Authority kicked off its public involvement program for the Lathrop Homes public housing project at Diversey, Damen, and Clybourne. This is the latest installment in the CHA’s “Plan for Transformation” that’s best known for demolishing the high rise projects at places like Cabrini-Green and the Robert Taylor Homes.

Lathrop is very different from your average public housing project, however. Firstly, Lathrop is very diverse, with a mix of white, black, and Latino residents. And the project has historically functioned fairly well, especially in contrast the more notorious projects around town.

Also, Lathrop’s built form is different. Rather than high rises, we have here a more low-rise development, with plenty of green space and access to the Chicago River. There’s nothing inherently dysfunctional about the type of building.

And Lathrop is a historically significant complex. It is one of only a few intact WPA housing projects in America. As pre-war structures, they also feature very high construction quality of a type not found in the post-war high rises.  And the landscape plan is also historically significant.

All three of these make Lathrop unique. So in undertaking a redevelopment of the property, the CHA needs to take great care not to simply apply the same approach it used elsewhere. For example, previous CHA development featured one third public housing, one third affordable housing, and one third market rate. With the agency required to build 400 public housing units on the site, using this formula would translate into 1,200 units–a significant increase from the 900 there today–and put 400 new condos into an already over saturated market where, depending on the source, 25-46% of area mortgages are underwater.

That’s not to say change isn’t needed. We’ve learned from hard experience that putting 100% poor people into high density environments comes with problems. Lathrop’s buildings are old, feature very small units, have asbestos problems, accessibility issues, etc. The site is physically isolated from the community, area businesses are not neighborhood oriented, there’s a poor pedestrian and transit experience, etc.

If the CHA and the development team are willing to work creatively to address the legitimate issues of the site while doing right by the residents and neighbors and incorporating innovative features like LEED-ND compliance for green development, the result could be a project that is not only welcome locally, but also becomes a national and international success story and model. Doing it wrong could potentially result in a Michael Reese Hospital-like disaster. Let’s hope the CHA and Lathrop Community Partners end up making the right choice.

Aaron Renn is a nationally known urban affairs commentator who blogs as The Urbanophile.

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  • Anonymous

    No, Lathrop Homes should NOT be treated any differently than any other CHA property. TEAR IT DOWN and relocated those there in elsewhere. While the teary comments from those living there are heartfelt,I can produce crime statistics and Arrest Reports that tell an altogether different (and factual) story about their beloved Lathrop Homes. What these residents DONT seem to realize or want to accept is the fact that THEY DO NOT OWN IT,THE CHA/HUD does. The buildings are beyond repair,unsafe,unhealthy and pose a risk to the community as a haven for criminals.
    What the residents there want to portray is that they are a caring loving happy community. This is the farthest thing from the truth. One resident,after a diligent investigation,was DEFRAUDING the HUD for upwards of 10 years,and was providing shelter and refuge to the criminal element at Lathop. Her own family was arrested NUMEROUS times for battery to the police, drugs,and a host of other crimes in this “nice safe loving community”. It took nearly 2 years to evict and convict this resident. After which,other residents admitted that it was far safer with her gone from the block. 
      This is only ONE example. The “activists” involved in saving lathrop homes have some skeletons in their closets as well ranging from one whom cant seem to remain sober to another who’s son is a borderline criminal. 
      Sure they want to keep lathrop alive. Its a criminal enterprise. They would not be allowed to do this other places so the fight to keep it is understandable.
       The bottom line here is demolish it,and relocated the residents. The 19th District would be far safer without this 
    hornets nest of drugs and gang bangers and welfare cheats. 
     Its about Change. Its time to put lathrop homes into the history books.

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