CHA to consider leasing public housing land to CPS for new Near South Side high school

The former Harold Ickes site has been vacant since 2010, and now Chicago Housing Authority officials are looking to lease the land to CPS. South Side residents say low-income housing promises made to the Black community by elected officials have gone by the wayside.

SHARE CHA to consider leasing public housing land to CPS for new Near South Side high school
A vacant lot at West 24th Street and South State Street in the South Loop — part of the former Harold L. Ickes Homes — is the proposed site for a new CPS high school.

A vacant lot at West 24th Street and South State Street in the South Loop — part of the former Harold L. Ickes Homes — is the proposed site for a new CPS high school.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicago officials are moving forward with plans to repurpose former public housing land for a new Near South Side high school, reigniting the frustrations of housing advocates who say the city is breaking promises to Black residents.

Neighbors and community leaders gathered Monday to protest a vote this week by the Chicago Housing Authority board that, if passed, would take a step toward leasing part of the land that made up the former Harold L. Ickes Homes to Chicago Public Schools.

Group leaders called out elected officials, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot, for pushing the plan through without enough public engagement.

“This has been a problem with the city of Chicago,” Roderick Wilson, executive director of the community organization Lugenia Burns Hope Center, said at a protest Monday. “We thought we were going to get something different when we got Lori Lightfoot, but we got the same playbook.”

Tuesday’s CHA meeting is expected to see a vote to lease 1.7 acres of the former Harold Ickes site at 24th and State streets — once a public housing complex until it was vacated in 2010 — to CPS for a new, $120 million Near South Side high school. In exchange, CPS would secure two parcels across the street that make up a combined 2 acres and swap that land with CHA.

The CHA meeting comes weeks after the plan looked stalled.

Pedro Martinez, the chief executive at CPS, pulled the school district’s proposal at the eleventh hour last month, just before the Board of Education was set to vote on the project. It faced an uncertain fate, with some board members disapproving of the project because of its potential harm to neighboring majority Black schools, and the community’s public housing concerns — issues laid out in a Sun-Times and WBEZ report. Martinez vowed to reintroduce the proposal after the necessary public engagement; a CPS spokeswoman said Monday the district has not yet decided when that would happen.

One of the board members who planned to vote against the project said last week that he believes Lightfoot has since ousted him from the board because of his opposition. He was replaced by former Ald. Michael Scott Jr., a Lightfoot ally.

A CHA spokesperson defended the proposal, saying the school “would serve students from several CHA developments [and] would directly benefit families living in public housing for years to come.

“Schools complement housing and provide all families, including those living in subsidized housing, with access to resources and opportunities to help them thrive,” the CHA said in a statement.

CHA is also set to vote to sell the land at the former Robert Taylor homes site at West 44th and South Dearborn Street in Bronzeville, which has been vacant since 2005, for “new, for-sale housing,” according to Tuesday’s board meeting agenda.

Advocates on Monday called for the decision on the 24th and State land to be delayed until after a community meeting with CHA that isn’t scheduled until Thursday — two days following the vote. Wilson said advocates and neighbors were informed of the decision to lease the property last week.

“Ultimately what CHA is doing is contributing to the gentrification of our community and contributing to the displacement of Black people,” Wilson said, urging the city to focus on on keeping Black families in Chicago by building more affordable housing before new schools.

CPS has said a new school would serve the South Loop, Chinatown and Bridgeport communities, with the Asian American population in the area particularly hopeful for a school that would address families’ language and immigration needs. Officials and advocates predict the school to enroll about 40% Asian American children, 30% Black students and 30% white kids.

“We are CHA residents, and we are poor but we are definitely not dumb,” said Etta Davis, a CHA resident and vice president of the local advisory council in the Dearborn Homes. “When Black children lined the State Street corridor for many years, they weren’t concerned about a high school in that area for us. Now, we know who this high school is for.”

According to the CHA, the proposal is still in a “conceptual” phase, and the organization will continue to consult with residents, despite claims by community groups that communication has not happened. 

“To our elected officials, come out here and do what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to be out here in this hot sun with us,” Davis said, as the crowd behind her cheered. “Don’t come knocking on my door come election time.”

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