Monday, July 23, 2012

Two Gated Communities: Will the Lathrop Homes be drowned in a River of Gentrification?


Gated Community  One.  "Take a stroll through Picardy Place and feel the essence of San Francisco.  This West Lakeview townhome community features near luxury homes wrapped in a variety of pastels – blue, grey, and peach stucco – nestled along brick paver streets." The gates protect it from the rabble on Diversey Avenue.
Gated Community Two, only blocks away from Picardy Place, the Julia C. Lathrop Homes.  The gates make sure no one actually lives there.  The Chicago Housing Authority gets the same HUD subsidy - reportedly over $11,000 per unit - whether the units are occupied or not, so it has no real incentive to find tenants, although it has a waiting list of 40,000 people.

Architect Robert S. De Golyer made his reputation building housing for Chicago's affluent in the teens and 1920's, including luxury highrises at 1120, 1242, 3500 and 3750 North Lake Shore Drive, the Powhatan Apartments on the South Side, and, next to the Museum of Contemporary Art, the palazzo-styled 200 East Pearson, where Ludwig Mies van der Rohe made his home for the last two decades of his life.
Landmarks Illinois, Antunovich Associates
In 1937, De Golyer tackled a very different project.  Working with a team that included Hugh Garden, Thomas Tallmadge, Hubert Burnham, and landscape architect Jens Jensen, De Golyer transformed 35 acres of riverfront property north and south of Diversey into the Julia C. Lathrop Homes, among the very first examples of federally funded public housing.  According to Preservation Chicago . . .
The design owes much to the earlier 19th century industrial towns (Saltaire, New Lanark, Pullman) as well as to the Garden City tradition started by Ebenezer Howard in England -- naturalistic setting, brick construction, low-rise buildings, curving walks and streets, informal siting of buildings, ample open/green space, and simple ornamentation.
Initially maintained as a whites-only development, the complex slowly began to be integrated, getting its first black residents in 1956.  According to Landmarks Illinois, Lathrop was a popular destination for returning veterans after World War II.  Later decades saw increasing problems with gangs and narcotics.  As part of its "Plan for Transformation" from 2000, to be completed within a decade,  the Chicago Housing Authority announced its intention in 2006 to demolish the Lathrop Homes for new development, resulting in protests from both residents and preservationists. With the project achieving a listing on the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year, the scorched earth approach has been put on hold.
Walking the complex today, its charms are evident.  The buildings are simple but elegant,  The grounds are handsome, with plenty of mature trees.  There's a nature trail along the river, although it's now cut off from the river with chain link fencing and overgrowth.
In 2011, the CHA moved out all residents in the northern half of Lathrop.  Although rehabilitation has taken place, there have been no move-ins.  According to Curtis Black's story at Community Media Workshop's Newstips site, drawing on stories in the Chicago Reporter and Crain's Chicago Business, 82% of Lathrop's 925 units are now vacant.  Lathrop's remaining residents were stunned to hear CHA staffer Veronica Gonzalez suggest at a June 27th meeting that her agency's long-standing pledge that residents would be able to remain during the project's renovation might be rescinded and the entire project emptied in case of an "emergency".  The resulting outrage caused the CHA to issue a statement that it was still committed to keeping residents in their homes during the rehab, while reserving the right to kick them all out.
Landmarks Illinois, Antunovich Associates
 In 2010, the CHA handed Lathrop's future over to Lathrop Community Partners, a consortium of five firms including Heartland Housing, Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation, and Related Midwest, a firm better known for constructing big residential high-rises.  In 2007 Landmarks Illinois had a preservation plan prepared by Antunovich Associates, which should be the starting point for any redevelopment, but may well not be.
A couple Saturdays ago, residents held a rally/barbeque against the rumored evictions, and to urge the CHA to make the vacant, rehab units available for leasing.  The t-shirt worn by a long-time resident  covered a major concern . . .
"No Market Rate."  The Plan for Transformation formula for redevelopment is one-third market rate, one-third affordable housing, and one-third public housing.  A Related Midwest executive told Curtis Black that at Lathrop market rate, which requires demolition and new construction, is non-negotiable, for two reasons: "to attract retail development, and to qualify for TIF financing."

Landmarks Illinois
Antunovich Associates
This is how the public sector is diluted through privatization. What was once a public asset is carved up into chunks, so that private interests can profit off of public holdings.  Usually with TIF subsidies.  Residents may well be looking closely at Related Midwest's actions at another CHA complex, the ABLA Homes on the near West Side, where Black reports that Related is asking to change the ratio of what was entirely public housing to 80% market rate, 20 per cent public housing, and no affordable housing at all.

Lathrop residents' "No Market Rate" is mirrored by what could said to be the motto of Lathrop's neighbors, "No Poor People Here."  Their voices were heard in comments in a 2010 piece on Lathrop by Dennis Rodkin in Chicago Magazine.  "tear -em down",  "If Lathrop stays  public and opens 600 more units - for me personally it'll mean losing big money and inability to sell my condo, ""rif raf and deadbeats", "'Don't build new public housing units on the site as it will not benefit the neighborhood", "move the people out of there . . .  I would feel much safer.", "crackheads running all over the neighborhood", "Why not turn it in to a large riverfront park?"
This is the way the world works.  Wedged between the Clybourn strip malls to the west and new condo developments to the east, the Lathrop Homes are an affront to upscale development.  To those who have worked their way up to be able to buy a sparkling new home in a trendy neighborhood, the residents of Lathrop are, at best, an embarrassment; at worst, a frightening menace.  To the working poor of Lathrop, those neighbors are the overseers of their future, who have no other interest in them than making them invisible, anywhere but here.
Yet, for a few golden decades, Lathrop, and other projects like it, were successful evocations of the American dream, where working people of different races lived together as they built a better life for themselves, in a setting that proclaimed that finding yourself on the lower end of the income stream didn't mean you forfeited your right to well-designed, decent housing, in a park-like setting.  In the increasing inequality of today's America, is there no longer a place for the idealism and commitment that created the Julia C. Lathrop Homes?

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

This author is full of shit.

Lathrop has been a failure for a long time and I defy him to show any type of reasonable evidence to the contrary. Where are the examples of individuals or families who have used it as a haven and then gone on to live fulfilling lives? Where are his stats that back up his wish to preserve this nightmare?

Screw the stats…provide just a few anecdotes of life stories that would make a compelling argument for saving this dreary slum. But for every story of hope and triumph that these walls might tell there are scores that recall tragedy, heartbreak and—worst of all—wasted human potential.

This project has been an ongoing massacre to the spirits of humans…and that truth is unaltered by obstinate authors who would wish that reality away.

Lynn Becker said...

If you weren't so hate-filled and lazy, you might try checking out some profiles of long-time residents in the Chicago Reporter stories.

Anonymous said...

Lynn,
Perhaps you can provide links to the profiles that show what a success Lathrop has been? I have been unable to find any.

Mary said...

Anonymous,you are so wrong ,we have plenty of good hard working people here paying 1,000 rents so please dnt judge us that is just mean,how about u reveal yourself,u have so much to say about people you dnt know dnt judge me by what others do.Im Mary Thomas a proud Lathrop resident!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Mary, you might be an acceptable residents in Lathrop, but unfortuately your status don't represent all others who lives in this complex. I live around the neighborhood, and it's horrifying to pass by it. Had to avoid it whenever taking walk around my own house, that isn't fair. People in this complex used to come out and harrasing neighboors. Until it's shut down lately, provided much peace to the community. I prefer it remains that way. And the best and highest use of the land is for redevelopment adding retails. Such a big parcel, would be wasted to remain as is. This is common sense, whoever in power try to stop it knows it better themselves, they just want to use their power to get a piece of profit out of this before agreeing tear down. I grant Mary to move back if she is as good as she said she is.

Anonymous said...

Mary,

It’s a cop out to label people as “judgmental” if they disagree with you. Same for how Mr. Becker (from whom examples of all the Lathrop success stories are still pending) falls back on the term “hate-filled”.

Don’t I have a right to question whether or not public funds are being used well?

It is tragic that our society advises public housing residents like we once advised abused women; to remain in a dangerous situation because it at least offers their children some sense of security.

Mary, don’t you get it? Clueless white assholes like Lynn Becker sit atop their perches in the Gold Coast and patronize people like you. But they and their silly stuffed shoulder-birds would never allow something like Lathrop to be built in their own hoods. They would dance around such a project labeling it as “out of context” or “inappropriate” for their part of town.

It’s unfortunate that with the current state of discourse I must remain anonymous—but to question the wisdom of public housing projects is to open oneself to accusations of racism, hate, discrimination…the list goes on.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous,the C.H.A. is getting paid for all vacancies,all im saying is we are not all bad seeds n they are picking them out n putting them out ive lived in Lakeview,we owned a house there n people were being raped,robbed,killed there too! Why are u afraid to walk past lathrop?Because ive seen alot more crimes going on in our surroundings neighborhoods,people act like we are trash n we just lurk around to rob the people around us,we are human some just less fortunate.Me ive lived on both sides of the tracks &i never ever downed the less fortunate,i went out n feed them helped them we need public housing,also affordable!My son is a United states Marine!he was raised in lathrop n he is doing very well,& my other children moved on graduated high school and are in the process of buying there own homes.So theres my 3 success stories!But i do agree with u about the people panhandling n stuff but 9xs out of 10 they are undocumented not supposed to be here!So look up lathrop alumni you will get some wonderful stories of success n meet some awsome people.Give it a try.

Mary said...

Anonymous,the C.H.A. is getting paid for all vacancies,all im saying is we are not all bad seeds n they are picking them out n putting them out ive lived in Lakeview,we owned a house there n people were being raped,robbed,killed there too! Why are u afraid to walk past lathrop?Because ive seen alot more crimes going on in our surroundings neighborhoods,people act like we are trash n we just lurk around to rob the people around us,we are human some just less fortunate.Me ive lived on both sides of the tracks &i never ever downed the less fortunate,i went out n feed them helped them we need public housing,also affordable!My son is a United states Marine!he was raised in lathrop n he is doing very well,& my other children moved on graduated high school and are in the process of buying there own homes.So theres my 3 success stories!But i do agree with u about the people panhandling n stuff but 9xs out of 10 they are undocumented not supposed to be here!So look up lathrop alumni you will get some wonderful stories of success n meet some awsome people.Give it a try.

Mary said...

And u do know the open investigation about CHA is pocketing your tax dollars being paid for units if occupied or not,I also feel u about the snobby rich,people,but there are people who truly care i do believe people are also in it for the money i feel its a land grab situation!

Anonymous said...

That development was there long before fancy condos and strip malls. If you didn't like it, you shouldn't have moved into the neighborhood. It has a wonderful human scale to it, and it's obvious that many residents feel proud of their homes and the community. It should stay public housing. And we should also abolish tif zones. All they do is feed into city wide corruption.

vmichael said...

I was involved in dozens of interviews of residents and former residents and I was shocked by their consistently positive perspective on Lathrop and their positive memories. Redevelopment ideally will satisfy neither the neighbors who want it razed nor the "No Market Rate" crowd.

Curtis Black said...

Thanks for the link and the insightful overview. Let me clarify a few minor details -- my post was at Community Media Workshop's Newstips.org, not the Chicago Reporter, it discussed the Reporter's investigation, and some of the reporting you attribute to me was done by the Reporter and by Crains (via Chicago Journal, for non-subscribers).

To Vince: the notion that we succeed if both sides disagree with us is endemic to our political discourse but I don't think it's always the road to wisdom.

Lynn Becker said...

Curtis,
thanks for the clarification - and all the great work. I've revised the attribution accordingly.

mckinley hill condo for rent said...

Thanks for sharing the updates. Will be back to read more. :)

aileen_c

marymagdalene_73116@yahoo.com; Gloria Leon said...

I am a former resident of Julia Lathrop Homes--2711 N. Hoyne and 2625 N. Hoyne--living there as a child with my family from 1957-1963, and, yes it was a springboard for a better life for us. We moved because our father got an education from the GI Bill and his rise in salary were like wings that flew us off to a better life. My sister and I attended St. Bonaventure School and we belonged to the project's Girl Scout Troop. Management always sponsored activites for kids and families. We had the same friends and schoolmates for all those years and have very fond memories of life at Julia Lathrop. Yes, there were drawbacks (like the incessant battle of roaches through the apartments [and this can occur in the best of homes]), but we had a neat and clean environment in which to run play and we all looked out for each other. This was a real neighborhood. Recently, I wanted to temporarily move back to Chicago from my home in Oklahoma and contacted JL homes to see if I could lease a townhouse or apartment for a year-this is when I became aware of all the problems with redevelopment and was told they are no longer leasing homes. I was heartbroken to be turned down and hear of the impending teardown of the homes or the redeveloopment of the property for the more affluent. Yes Julia Lathrop is the "projects,", but I do not believe it was ever a slum. In my life travels I have yet to come across a "projects" the likes of Julia Lathrop---the beauty of the architecture, the serene river setting and the cleanliness of the property. In my time, it was managed as a place for working class families to live a lifetime or until they moved up in status, just as my family members did. To read about its decline is saddening, but it does not have to be the end of its original purpose. I hope that this controversy will fare for those like my family and many others who called Julia Lathrop their first real home.

Anonymous said...

Wow anonymous what an idiot. My husband grew up in Lathrop AND Englewood on the South Side. I am from Ann Arbor, Michigan so i have something called PERSPECTIVE. Something that you obviously LACK. My husband is a Nuclear Engineer, his brother is a Computer Programmer and Analyst and his other brother is a business owner. All from Lathrop. He always takes our children for a drive when we are in Chicago (none of them live in Chicago any longer). He tells them how fortunate they are that they didn't have to grow up in public housing but that he is proud that he was able to grow up and out of there. His Dad and his brother who also grew up in Lathrop both went on to become Chicago Fire Fighters. It is sad there are failures in all socio economic groups. Some are just more pronounced and advertised than others. You should research the percentage of successes and failures before you start spewing vitriol. BTW I have an older cousin who is a retired Northern Trust SVP. One sector of my family settled in Chicago and the other in Detroit and by 1922 my branch had broken off and moved to Ann Arbor, Mi. My cousin was heartbroken when they could not save the public housing he grew up in Ida B. Wells and renovate it like they plan to do here. Public housing in Chicago has a rich and a troubled history just like many sectors of society.