The following was written by Chicago journalist Curtis Black.
Pastors invoked the Battle of Jericho -with the Chicago Housing Authority as the wall keeping people out of their promised land - at an Interfaith Call to Action rally demanding preservation of public housing at Lathrop Homes last week.
"There's a barrier standing in the way of thousands of people who need a home," said Rev. Bruce Ray of Kimball Avenue Church. "There's a barrier standing in the way of new homes in a land of promise...It's the Chicago Housing Authority."
As fellow pastors held up a wall with the letters "CHA" on it, Ray added, "CHA might as well stand for 'Can't House Anyone.'"
Reenacting the Bible story, protestors marched around City Hall, blew a ram's horn, and "gave a great shout."
Then they went up to the fifth floor and delivered a petition to Mayor Rahm Emanuel calling on him to preserve or replace all 925 of Lathrop's public housing units, to "stop using public dollars to perpetuate segregation in Chicago," and to enact the Keeping the Promise ordinance to increase CHA accountability.
The goal was to take the issue of Lathrop's future to the mayor himself, organizers said. With federal oversight limited by a longstanding deregulation agreement, they say, CHA is ultimately accountable mainly to the mayor, who appoints its leadership.
The mayor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Under CHA's original Plan For Transformation 15 years ago, Lathrop was to be redeveloped as 100-percent public housing. In 2006, CHA announced it would demolish Lathrop and build mixed-income housing, but this proposal was shot down; in 2010 CHA issued a request for proposals for mixed-income redevelopment combining preservation and new construction.
Three years later, a development group headed by luxury highrise developer Related Midwest unveiled a master plan with 45 percent of apartments projected to be market rate - including a new highrise on the Chicago River - and 20,000 square feet of retail. Of the 925 existing public housing units in the low-rise development at Diversy and Clybourn, only 400 would remain. In September, developers filed a planned development application with the City Council.
Still expected is a proposal for a TIF district to finance market-rate housing and retail development at Lathrop.
Meanwhile CHA stopped leasing vacant units at Lathrop, which today is less than 20 percent occupied.
Ray described the process as "fifteen years of violence against our community, perpetrated by CHA against the only housing for low-income families on the North Side of Chicago." He added, "Mayor Emanuel has a moral obligation to stop CHA violence against our community."
"My community does not need more market-rate housing," he said. "My community needs public housing and affordable housing. We want CHA to provide public housing at Lathrop Homes and expand public housing on the North Side of Chicago."
Lathrop residents organized in the Lathrop Leadership Team continue to oppose the inclusion of market-rate housing in the redevelopment, arguing that the surrounding area is saturated with high-end condos.
But if mixed-income redevelopment does proceed, residents are demanding a clear commitment for replacing 525 units of public housing that will be lost under the current plan. And they are demanding that replacement housing be provided on the North Side. To date, the vast majority of CHA relocatees have ended up in low-income, racially segregated areas.
Attending the rally, Ald. Joe Moreno (1st Ward) said he would not approve any zoning changes for the Lathrop redevelopment without a written commitment for replacement housing for lost CHA units "either on-site or on the North Side."
Producing 500 units of public housing on the North Side could be a major challenge, given low vacancy rates and high costs of land and housing in the area, said Leah Levinger of the Chicago Housing Initiative. In her view, that's a strong reason to preserve Lathrop as public and affordable housing.
Lathrop Community Partners, the development team headed by Related Midwest, declined to comment.
Photo: Tami Love/LSNA