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Zoning Committee authorizes Lathrop Homes redevelopment

The redeveloped Lathrop Homes would retain some of the historic structures, but newer housing and retail space also would be added. | Provided rendering

The Chicago Housing Authority’s historic but decaying Lathrop Homes project will be redeveloped into a massive mixed-use project with potential to reshape the riverwalk and the entire North Side under a controversial project advanced Monday.

The City Council’s Zoning Committee gave the CHA’s hand-picked developers the go-ahead to build 1,208 units of housing, 50,000 square feet of retail, nearly double earlier plans, and a riverwalk with 11 acres of restored green space that planners hope will serve as a “community mecca and a natural oasis” on the Lathrop site.

The Depression-era public housing project is in the North Center neighborhood, on the north branch of the river, between the trendy areas of Roscoe Village and Bucktown.

The ambitious plan calls for a mix of new buildings, a gut rehab of 19 of the 31 historic Lathrop buildings, as well as parks, playgrounds and in-unit washers and dryers.

WATCHDOGS: Chicago’s public housing divide; a Sun-Times/BGA report

Testimony at Monday’s meeting reflected the deep division among neighborhood residents.

Some Lathrop residents once again decried the project as a “land grab.” That’s because it will be a mixed-income development with less than half of the units earmarked for low-income residents displaced when the CHA slated Lathrop for redevelopment as part of its long-stalled “Plan for Transformation” 15 years ago.

“This has been hard on me. . . . I am a disabled veteran. I pay . . . almost $1,000 in rent right now. As this goes forward, my rent will go up. Nobody’s addressed that,” said J.L. Gross, who has lived in a Lathrop apartment for 26 years.

“I’m just hurt that my community is being devastated and decimated. . . . We’re surrounded by four shopping centers. We don’t feel there’s a real need for 20,000 to 50,000 square feet of retailing space,” he said. “We kind of object to the kayaking thing because people in Lathrop don’t kayak. We take the bus or the L. And as far as tearing up these row houses and putting in four new streets that go to nowhere, that’s an ironic situation for me. Very ironic.”

Lathrop resident Cynthia Scott asked aldermen how they could “justify” earmarking 44 percent of the 1,208 units for market-rate housing, well above the one-third figure the CHA promised as part of its Plan for Transformation.

“You’re canceling out 524 units. They’re being displaced. You’re displacing them for what? For market-rate [housing]. There’s market rate already surrounding the neighborhood that is not even being bought or sold off. You could use these units for market rate. You’re taking away public housing for market-rate housing, which we don’t need there,” Scott said.

Barbara Burns, who grew up at Lathrop, questioned zoning authorization to build a high-rise that could be as tall as 16 stories.

“The tallest [existing] buildings are either three-story or four-story and then, a lot of row houses. To put a high-rise in this area really is not in keeping with the community,” she said. “It’s going to create more density.

“I question what this does to the community. This changes the whole dynamic of it. It’s not as children-friendly as Lathrop always was. It’s a serious mistake to move in this direction,” Burns said.

Northwestern University sociology professor Mary Pattillo has studied public housing in general and Lathrop Homes in particular. She noted that Lathrop was not among the “severely distressed” public housing projects covered by the Gautreaux decision, which led to the creation of scattered-site public housing in Chicago.

“It does not have any federal mandates to do so. In fact, this is as contrary to the Gautreaux ruling as you can get. Lathrop is already a racially integrated development in a neighborhood that is trending more white. And so, to not give opportunities to black and Latino and white residents of Lathrop to stay in a majority white neighborhood is totally contrary to Gautreaux,” she said.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), whose ward includes a small piece of the Lathrop project, argued that the project includes too much retail, no new school to accommodate the influx of families with school-age children, and no transportation plan to keep the pressure off the CTA’s already crowded Diversey and Damen bus lines.

Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st), whose ward includes the bulk of the Lathrop project, says he now has a commitment in writing from the CHA to bring 525 units of public housing to the North Side.

That would roughly make up for the slots lost in the redeveloped Lathrop.

Moreno argued that it’s time to forge ahead after 15 years of empty promises.

“Walking away and kicking the can down the road, as Ald. Waguespack would like to do, is not fair and just to the residents. . . . That’s been going on for too long. . . . The vision against this is basically, `Stall, stall, delay, delay’ while Lathrop Homes, 117 units sit there and continue to be patchwork done. That’s what you heard from the residents today and why I’m so committed to this,” Moreno said.

“It’s one thing to have a protest about affordable housing. It’s another thing to actually demand it and actually deliver it,” he said. “That’s what this committee is doing today.”

Lathrop Site Plan