Chicago Public Housing activists say it is unacceptable that the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) has once again broken its promise to deliver replacement housing units for former residents of the now demolished Harold Ickes Homes, which saw its last families move out in 2010.
The Ickes public housing buildings on the near South Side had more than 1,000 units before they were torn down between 2009 to 2010. CHA has yet to bring back 312 replacement units that it promised to construct, and it appears there are no concrete plans to build any of them in 2014, according to CHA's proposed 2014 Moving to Work (MTW) Annual Plan.
On Thursday, more than a dozen former Ickes residents and their supporters gathered at a vacant lot at State Street and Cermak Road, one of the former Ickes sites.
"It is unfortuante that every time that housing numbers were supposed to be promised, those numbers were reduced," said the Rev. Robert Jones of Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church. "The city talks about the economics, but yet money is found to put a tremendously large DePaul center not very far from here, and yet we still have this vacant field."
Jones was referring to the future DePaul University basketball arena and new hotel as part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's controversial plan to expand McCormick Place into an entertainment district as a means to boost tourism. The plan for the arena and hotel involves a $55 million public subsidy through tax increment financing (TIF) funds.
"What we're saying is housing first and sports and tourism later," said Rod Wilson, director of the Lugenia Burns Hope Center.
The MTW plan, as part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) MTW demonstration program, does say that CHA expects to issue a request for proposals for a mixed-use development at portions of the Ickes site.
But the housing activists said they don't buy it. They noted that CHA officials have said year after year, even before Ickes was torn down, that they planned to issue such a solicitation for a new development.
Dorthy Jennings, who lived at Ickes for more than 30 years, said Ickes residents are now spread across the city, after spending nearly their whole lives living and working in the community.
"Now we have been displaced into a community where we are strangers far from our support network," she stressed. "We have been forced into neighborhoods that are food deserts. We just want to come back home."
Ickes' working group, composed of residents, city officials, community leaders and other stakeholders, that was forming ideas about the future of the site no longer exists, according to the former tenants. The main Ickes resident who was working with the group has since died and, according to Wilson, CHA hasn't reached out to other people from Ickes to start up a new working group.
"It's being forgotten purposefully," he stressed.
Wilson and others blasted CHA for its overall poor track record on living up to its promises as part of the billon-dollar Plan for Transformation. The plan, which began in 2000, set out to produce 25,000 rehabbed or new replacement units following demolition. The so-called transformation was originally expected to be completed by 2010, but it was extended through the end of 2015.
According to the Chicago Housing Initiative, CHA vowed to replace 5,182 out of a nearly 18,700 units from 12 public housing developments that saw the wrecking ball during the history of the Plan for Transformation. Just 2,472 of those units, however, have been replaced thus far, according to the organization's calculation.
"We see demolition (doesn't) work," said Titus Kerby, vice president of the Lathrop Homes public housing project on the near North Side, which CHA plans to redevelop. "It don't work, because you won't keep your promise."
CHA's proposed 2014 MTW plan calls for the construction of only 40 public housing units in mixed-income redevelopments in the next year. That’s the lowest level of planned, newly-constructed development since the Plan for Transformation began, housing activists say.
"CHA sold us an idea in 1999 about plans for transformation. They promised housing. They haven't delivered on that," Wilson explained. "That was 1999. We're in 2013."
Wilson said it's important to remember that the issue isn't simply a matter of physical buildings and housing units.
"We're talking about humans," he stressed. "If they want to live together, they should have the right to live together. The CHA promised them the right to return, and [it's] reneging on their promise."
The public comment period regarding the proposed 2014 MTW plan ends Friday at 5 p.m. Comments can be emailed to [email protected]. Call CHA at (312) 913-7300 for more information.