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Crowd protests Lathrop Homes redevelopment plan

J.L. Gross has lived in a Lathrop Homes apartment for 26 years. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Hundreds of protesters gathered Sunday to voice opposition to the Chicago Housing Authority’s plan to redevelop the Lathrop Homes, a group of historic but dilapidated brick buildings along the north branch of the Chicago River between Roscoe Village and Bucktown.

The City Council’s Zoning Committee last week gave the CHA’s hand-picked developers the go-ahead to build 1,208 units — including market rate and below market rate units — as well as 50,000 square feet of retail space.

Less than half of the units under the plan would be earmarked for low-income residents displaced when the CHA slated Lathrop Homes for redevelopment as part of its long-stalled “Plan for Transformation” 15 years ago.

People live in about 140 units at Lathrop Homes, where many buildings are boarded up or surrounded by fencing.

The plan calls for new construction as well as a gut rehab of 19 of the 31 existing Lathrop buildings. But critics point out that, under the plan, 525 of Lathrop’s 925 low-income housing units would not be replaced.

Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st), whose ward includes the bulk of the Lathrop project, recently said he has a commitment in writing from the CHA to bring 525 units of public housing to the North Side to replace the ones being eliminated under the new development plan.

But protesters had little faith the agreement would be honored.

“Right now all we have from the CHA is a vaguely worded commitment to create 525 units but there’s no where, there’s no when, there’s no accountability and they haven’t offered any information on how they would fund such a thing” said Bruce Ray, pastor of the Kimball Avenue Church, who joined a coalition of community and faith-based groups as well as Lathrop residents to fight the development plan.

“We don’t need more market-rate housing in this community,” Ray said. “What we need is affordability.”

Grounds for the Depression-era public housing project were designed by famed landscape architect Jens Jensen. The Lathrop Homes made the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

“This is a land grab, pure and simple,” said J.L. Gross, who has lived in a Lathrop apartment for 26 years. “It’s all about tax revenue. A mixed-income development brings in a lot of tax money.”

Cynthia Scott, 55, a Lathrop resident, said the city is “taking over housing from people who need it.”

Scott, who like many Lathrop residents, is disabled and unable to work.

“I think it sucks. I think the whole thing is dirty,” she said.

Laura Donaldson, 47, who uses a wheelchair because she has cerebral palsy, has been on the CHA waiting list for 20 years.

“It looks like the mayor wants the poor and people with low income to move out of the city,” said Donaldson, who lives at a homeless shelter.

“What? Just cause we’re poor we need to go? … I mean, come on, we have a right to housing too. Having your own is a human right.”