A palpable tension laced last night’s meeting at New Life Community Church, 2928 N. Damen Ave., to discuss a planning for redevelopment of Lathrop Homes public housing. Despite a couple of raucous interruptions and opponents with black t-shirts reading, “Save Lathrop Homes,” the meeting of about three hundred people was run smoothly by an array of distinguished Chicago architects and developers, the local alderman and the Chicago Housing Authority’s new CEO, Charles Woodyard, who all came to deliver one message: Lathrop Homes is going to be redeveloped and if you want to be a part of it, get involved now.
Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), who represents part of Lathrop Homes along the Chicago River at Clybourn and Diversey Avenues, was much more direct, at one point telling the audience that they should get on board with the planning process now, or risk being left out.
“Nobody is going to tell our Lathrop residents who our neighbors [are going to be]. You’re going to tell us that,” said Moreno. “This is the first time CHA has had this process. You’re going to come in and say I like this, I like that.”
The meeting, briskly conducted by a phalanx of developer staff attending to the audience’s every need, including a fully-stocked sandwich table, had few answers for Lathrop Home residents and neighbors trying to determine the ultimate future of the site. The key unaddressed and unresolved question was, how much of the project will become market-rate homes and how many units will remain subsidized public housing?
“We have no plan,” Kerry Dickson from project developer Related Midwest repeatedly said during the course of the meeting. “This is just the start of the planning process.”
Indeed, last night’s ninety minute meeting was dedicated to first introducing the dozens of consultants, architects, planners and contractors devoted to the project, and then to sketching out the many months-long planning process for the Lathrop Homes redevelopment project. Unlike previous CHA Plan For Transformation projects which developed complete plans behind closed doors and then invited community comment, the Lathrop Homes project will include residents and neighbors from the beginning of the planning process.
But the tightly managed meeting, which even included a slick, five minute video introducing the lead development team members, did not seem to assuage all Lathrop residents’ concerns.
“I’m looking at it as information. It’s too early to tell,” said Lathrop resident Titus Kerby following the meeting. “I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.”
“They’re not ever coming back. They’re going to tear it down, revamp it and do what they’ve done with all the other public housing,” said one Lathrop Homes resident identifying herself as Mrs. Gibson.
Some neighbors at the meeting were indifferent to the Lathrop residents’ concerns.
“These people have been here thirty years. What can I say?” said Clybourn Ave. business owner Norb Francis. “I work, I get paid. I don’t work, I don’t get paid. It makes them lazy. Reminds me of Sweden or something.”
Immediately after the larger meeting, a second, unsanctioned meeting for “Save Lathrop Homes” was convened in a side room of the church by Logan Square Neighborhood Association organizer John McDermott. The opposition meeting attracted a mix of about fifty residents, neighbors and professional community organizers. A flyer calling for the opposition meeting charged the CHA with purposely shutting down large portions of Lathrop Homes so it could be prepped for ultimate demolition, not for the welfare of current public housing residents.
“That meeting was just to pacify us,” shouted an audience member to numerous amens.
But occupied with long speeches calling for fighting and opposing the new development process, the opposition meeting seemed to produce few clear ideas on how or actions to halt the Lathop Homes redevelopment.