Public housing not easy to garner on Northwest Side

Mixed income facilities incorporate public, affordable and market rate units.

Moving into public housing on the Northwest Side is difficult – and the Lathrop Homes redevelopment may not make it any easier.

Many current and former Lathrop residents and community members have voiced concern about recently unveiled plans to decrease the number of public housing units at Lathrop from 925 to 400.

“I think it’s unfair with the economy the way it is that [the CHA is] constantly trying to tear down homes and put people out,” said Denaice Wright, an activist with the Chicago Housing Initiative.

The redesigned Lathrop Homes will reflect the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation, a move to integrate public housing residents more seamlessly into their communities by offering market rate and affordable housing alongside public housing at CHA-run properties.

The Logan Square Neighborhood Association has been a vocal opponent of moving Lathrop away from 100 percent public housing since talks about the property’s redesign began more than a decade ago. There’s real demand for public and affordable housing on the Northwest Side, the association contends.

“When a new [affordable housing] facility opens, there are lines around the block,” said John McDermott, housing and land use director at the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

Of the CHA’s roughly 20,000 public housing units, only about 10 percent are on the Northwest Side. With Lathrop only housing a bare bones number of residents (167) in anticipation of construction, individuals interested in public housing on the Northwest Side have just a few places to turn.

Aside from Lathrop, the Northwest Side has two seniors-only public housing properties, one mixed-income property, and a variety of “scattered site” properties.

According to CHA property inventory data cited by The Chicago Reporter in July 2012, the seniors-only facilities each had two vacant units. The mixed-income facility had one. The scattered sites had 107.

Scattered site properties on the Northwest Side are divided into two geographic categories: North Central (in neighborhoods near Logan Square) and North East (near Dunning).
Applicants must be 62 years of age (or 55, if they meet certain disability requirements) to qualify for CHA senior properties.

The complication with filling scattered site properties lies in their resident eligibility criteria.

To apply for scattered site housing, an applicant must currently be a resident of a property’s neighborhood (for example, if an individual or family is seeking housing in a scattered site property in Logan Square, they must be living in Logan Square to apply).

And it’s unlikely that that an applicant seeking public housing on the Northwest Side is already living there in private housing. According to data from the 2000 U.S. Census and the 2009 American Communities Survey compiled by the Chicago Rehab Network, monthly rental rates in Northwest Side communities have increased sharply in recent years.

The average monthly rent for an apartment in Humboldt Park jumped from $657 in 2000 to $888 in 2009, a 35 percent hike, according to the data. An apartment in Logan Square bounced from $778 to $982. Considering the average CHA resident’s annual income is $13,908 (according to the CHA’s 2011 annual report), it’s unlikely that an individual seeking public housing could foot a $900 monthly rent bill while waiting to be approved for a scattered site unit.

The only other option to get into public housing on the Northwest Side is the CHA’s Housing Choice Voucher program. However, a lottery to be included on the HCV waiting list closed in May 2008 and has not reopened (and, according to the CHA, no date for reopening the list has been determined).

Plus, many North Side landlords balk at including their properties in the HCV program, which puts CHA residents in private housing and pays a percentage of their rent.

“Very few voucher holders can get into North Side neighborhoods,” said McDermott, citing landlords’ reluctance to enter into a contract with CHA.

As such, prospects for public housing on the Northwest Side look dim.

The brightest prospect seems to be the reopening of Lathrop Homes as a mixed income property at some point yet to be determined (construction is currently projected to begin in 2015). But many of the site’s 400 public housing units have already been earmarked – current Lathrop residents and anyone living in the facility on October 1, 1999 have first dibs on a new unit.

The CHA says that “less than 250” of the 400 units are already claimed.


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