Developers are moving forward with ambitious plans to revitalize the Southwest Side neighborhood that was once home to the LeClaire Courts public housing complex.
The details about the redevelopment of LeClaire Courts comes 10 years after the public housing units were demolished in 2011. The complex had originally been built in the 1950s and stood along Cicero Avenue between the Stevenson Expressway and 45th Street in the Garfield Ridge area, according to a transportation study from 2013.
After years of sitting vacant, the Chicago Housing Authority’s board in 2019 approved LeClaire Partners, which consists of Cabrera Capital and the Habitat Company, to redevelop the site.
Martin Cabrera, the chief executive officer at Cabrera Capital, said the $350 million redevelopment plan calls for a new model of public housing that will mix residential units with commercial space. It’s a plan he wants to boost economic growth along Cicero Avenue and extend to surrounding neighborhoods.
“Our vision is to deliver the largest revitalization effort on the Southwest Side,” Cabrera said.
Construction of the first phase of the project could begin in late 2021 or in early 2022, Cabrera said. The developers still need to get approval from the city before moving forward with construction.
The first phase will include two mid-rise residential buildings along Cicero Avenue. One building will have 70 residential units while the other will have 110 units, and it will include a mix of one to three bedrooms.
About 40% of the units will be set aside for former residents of LeClaire Courts or those on CHA’s waiting list; another 40% of the units will be set aside as affordable housing for residents who earn below 60% of the median income; and the remaining 20% will be market-rate apartments, said Jeffrey Head, vice president of development at the Habitat Company.
The rest of the redevelopment calls for the construction of units that will include as many as 5 bedrooms. The larger family units will be part of lower-density buildings with the idea of having families closer to more green space, Head said. In total, the plan is expected to create 675 residential units, according to LeClaire Partners.
The first phase will also include the construction of a grocery store and a health care clinic. Other commercial spaces are intended for a day care center and a community center that will double as a job training facility, Cabrera said.
During community meetings about the project, the need for a full-service grocery store that included everything from a deli to frozen foods was brought up multiple times, said Mark Kirincich, a principal at Cabrera Capital.
The original LeClaire Courts public housing complex was the city’s first attempt at integration, low-rise public housing, according to the city’s Park District website. In 1989, it became the first tenant-managed public housing complex, according to a Chicago Sun-Times story from 1996.
Cabrera envisions the redevelopment project serving a similar purpose of desegregating the community and uniting diverse residents.
Tracey Scott, the chief executive officer of the CHA, in a prepared statement said the plan incorporates the needs of families that ranges from green space to schools and other amenities.
Some public housing developments in previous decades felt isolated from the rest of the city and resources, but Head said the concept of the plan was to connect jobs and housing to create a long-term community. Their goal is to create 675 permanent jobs through the retail and commercial spaces. The developers are also working to connect the streets on the site to the rest of the city grid.
“There is no dividing line between the new development and the community,” Head said. “This is part of the Southwest Side.”
Brenda Alford, who lived at LeClaire Courts for more than 10 years, said she doesn’t have a problem with the redevelopment plans, but she wants to ensure CHA residents aren’t treated differently than the market-rate residents.
She also would like the former residents like herself to have a say in what the area will be called if the name is changed. She is pushing for the area to be called Harold Washington Courts, after the city’s first African American mayor.
Alford is most concerned about the process to ensure residents will be able to move back into the units because she hasn’t gotten any details about it. She would like CHA to also address if the children who lived at the complex who now might be adults will also have the right to return.
In the 10 years since the apartments were demolished, Alford has moved to the Englewood area but still considers the Southwest Side her home. She has kept in contact with some residents, but it’s been hard to keep a tally on all the former residents.
“We only had 30 days to move — to me that was against the law — so we had to scramble,” Alford said. “Different people went to different places. It kind of cracked our community because we could hardly find people. We didn’t know where everyone was. It’s been almost 12 years and they just beginning to build.”
Joann Williams, from the Hearst Community Organization, has lived in the neighborhood adjacent to the property for most of her life. She lived at LeClaire Courts for a few years as a child starting in 1966.
Williams is in favor of the redevelopment plan, in particular the prospect of a place that will provide job development for nearby residents and for the grocery store. Like Alford, she thinks the former residents should have a say in what the area will be called if the name is changed.
She’s heard some opposition from nearby residents about public housing units returning to the area.
“Some very good people have come out of public housing,” Williams said. “I think I’m one of them. The image of public housing people have is of gangs, drugs and this and that, that’s what we are changing. It’s a new day.”
Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.
Editor’s note: This article was updated to correct the time when Joann Williams lived at LeClaire Courts.