Locals urge for more public housing on city’s North Side


Santiago Covarrubias Photo Editor

The Lathrop Homes located between Bucktown and Roscoe Village has been around since 1937 but is now slated for redevelopment.

By Metro Reporter

Low-income residents and families throughout Illinois are struggling to find affordable housing because of increasingly long waiting lists and cuts to existing public housing units.

A November 2015 report by Housing Action Illinois and Heartland Alliance showed 72 percent of waiting lists for subsidized housing vouchers in Illinois are closed to new names because of the sizable increase in people seeking public housing on Chicago’s North Side.

Housing Action Illinois and Heartland Alliance surveyed housing authorities and found a shortage of affordable housing for renters in  households with the lowest incomes throughout the state, said Bob Palmer, policy director for Housing Action Illinois.

“Programs like the housing choice voucher program or the public housing programs that provide actual units are crucial, and it’s horrible to lose them,” Palmer said. “We need to preserve them, which is why we support efforts such as those being advocated for the Lathrop Homes and others to preserve as much affordable housing at the development.”

In September 2015, developers backed by the Chicago Housing Authority applied to the City Council to convert the Lathrop Homes to mixed-income housing. The plan would eliminate 525 of the current 925 public housing units and only 200 would be for low-income households.

Palmer said the solution to the public housing shortage is for the federal budget to restore some housing choice vouchers that have been lost in the last couple years as a result of budget cuts.

The report also recommends restoring the 67,000 vouchers nationally that were lost in 2013 due to mandatory budget cuts by officials in the  State of Illinois.

Residents gathered Nov. 9 in an interfaith call to action at the James R. Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph St., to protest the CHA’s plan, supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, to redevelop the Lathrop Homes. Protesters chanted, “Whose side are you on, Rahm? Whose side are you on?”

Charles Hogren, who has lived across the street from the Lathrop Homes for 42 years, said he values the private community built after the Great Depression, but the CHA has gradually moved people out. He also said he blames Emanuel for disregarding the homes and their low-income residents for so long.

“It’s become a ghost town,” Hogren said. “It’s a shame that it’s being put out in order to allow rich people to take over these beautiful homes for low-income people.”

Rachel Goodstein, a Chicago resident who has advocated for the Lathrop Homes since 1992, said she thinks eliminating subsidized units, like the Lathrop Homes, is a land grab. She said because the land is on the river, it is probably one of the only clean areas in Chicago.

“The Lathrop Homes is public housing that works,” Goodstein said. “Emanuel should get this going the way it should be done.”

Daniel Ronan, manager of Public Engagement at the National Public Housing Museum in Chicago, tentatively set to open by 2017, said public housing on the North Side has many “scattered sites.” 

“[The museum] believes public housing is important to all Chicagoans because as a society we double down in protecting homes for as many people as possible,” Ronan said.