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Judge OKs deal to bring more public housing to Near North Side

A federal judge has approved a deal between the Chicago Housing Authority and an advocacy organization for the residents of Cabrini-Green that could bring hundreds of new public housing units to Chicago’s Near North Side.

The settlement agreement, first filed last week, resolves a 2013 lawsuit filed by the Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Council to force the CHA to keep promises it made 15 years ago as it embarked on a plan to tear down its high-rise public housing developments and rehabilitate others.

Specifically, the council said the CHA reneged on a promise to rehab the Francis Cabrini Rowhouses, which were to remain 100 percent public housing. The 586 units of low-rise public housing were built in 1942 to accommodate low-income war-industry workers and their families, according to the council’s lawsuit.

But by the time the council filed its complaint, it said, just 146 had been rehabbed.

U.S. District Judge Marvin Aspen gave his blessing Wednesday to a deal between the council and the CHA. He ordered the CHA to turn 440 vacant units at the Cabrini Rowhouses site into a mixed-income, mixed-finance community that contains no less than 40 percent public housing units and no less than 15 percent affordable housing units.

The judge also ordered the CHA to “use its best efforts” to return at least 176 public housing units to the site of the unrehabilitated rowhouses. He then told the CHA to rehab, redevelop, acquire or enter into “long-term project-based voucher contracts” for at least 1,800 subsidized units of “various bedroom sizes” in an area bounded by North Avenue on the north, State Street on the east, Chicago Avenue on the south and Halsted Street to the west.

CHA must inform the council if it can’t deliver on the 1,800 units by the end of 2022, the judge said. It must also “meet and consult” with the council before adopting any plan revolving around the 146 rowhouses that have already been rehabilitated.

In seeking the settlement, attorneys for both sides wrote, “completion of the Cabrini Redevelopment, with public housing integrated into a racially and economically diverse area will provide relief to plaintiff class families.”

Elizabeth Rosenthal, the council’s attorney, said the overall goal of the original lawsuit was to bring more public housing to the city’s Near North area. She said the CHA had promised to replace 25,000 public housing units overall. If those units weren’t established at the Cabrini site, she said, they likely would have wound up in areas with low opportunity and high poverty rates.

“Unlikely on the North Side, in opportunity areas,” Rosenthal said. “In areas with access to schools and jobs and public transportation.”

An attorney for the CHA could not immediately be reached for comment.