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City breaks ground on Lathrop Homes redevelopment

Artist's rendering of the Lathrop Homes redevelopment. | Provided by the Chicago Housing Authority

City officials broke ground Tuesday on the Lathrop Homes mixed-income redevelopment, a controversial overhaul of the historic North Side public housing project that has stirred debate among residents, housing advocates and developers for more than a decade.

Crews will rehab 16 existing buildings and build a single new one during the first phase of construction north of Diversey Parkway, according to the Chicago Housing Authority.

That will result in 414 new or revamped housing units — identically designed, ranging from studios to four-bedroom apartments — with 151 managed by the CHA, 101 earmarked as “affordable,” and 162 selling at market rates that critics have suggested could force low-income residents out of the Depression-era project. It sits on prime real estate along the north branch of the Chicago River, surrounded by trendy areas of Roscoe Village, Bucktown and Lincoln Park.

The plan also calls for 4 acres of public open space including a river walk, bicycle lanes, dog park, playground and boat launch, according to the CHA, which set aside up to $75 million in June 2016 for the first phase of redevelopment.

Eventually, the redevelopment will create a total of 1,116 mixed-income housing units and up to 50,000 square feet of retail space.

Artist’s rendering of the Lathrop Homes redevelopment. | Provided by the Chicago Housing Authority

The CHA first broached redevelopment plans for Lathrop Homes in 2006 and began giving out vouchers to clear residents in 2011. Today, less than a quarter of its 925 current units are occupied, with dozens sitting vacant or boarded.

Juanita Stevenson, president of the Lathrop Homes Local Advisory Council, was among the chorus of protesters who last year decried the overhaul as a “land grab” at the CHA’s last major North Side project. Critics pointed out that the plan eliminated 525 low-income units.

The CHA says it has identified 411 of 625 units to replace them under a deal struck last year with the lawyers who oversee the agency’s desegregation efforts.

And now Stevenson, a Lathrop Homes resident for more than 30 years, said she is thankful for the plan in place.

“Over the years, we were given a name here in public housing — ‘those people over there,'” Stevenson said at the groundbreaking. “A lot of folks now want to join ‘those people over there.’ That stigma is going to be taken away from us.”

Curt Bailey, president of one of the redevelopers, Related Midwest, touted the project as “setting a new standard for mixed-income living and riverfront restoration in Chicago and across the world.”

Officials break ground on the Lathrop Homes redevelopment project on Tuesday. | Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st) said the “unique” situation of Lathrop Homes as a historic site and North Side housing project led to years of wrangling over the plan.

“There were starts, delays, discussion, a lot of passion and argument, and it was difficult for a lot of us,” he said.

The crowd at Tuesday’s groundbreaking on Lathrop Homes’ “Great Lawn” consisted mostly of supporters. One resident briefly got into a shouting match with public officials after the ceremony, claiming developers had reneged on an agreement to hire local workers. But plans call for a set percentage of Chicago residents to be hired throughout the overhaul, officials said.

“We need to find jobs for our residents,” CHA CEO Eugene Jones Jr. said. “Today is the start of that.”

The first phase of construction is expected to last through 2018, while other phases will be completed over several years.