City owes CHA residents what it promised them

By JAY TRAVIS

It is possible to desire an increase in commercial development in the 3rd and 4th wards, and also expect the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and elected officials to honor the agreement to replace the percentage of public housing units promised in the CHA’s Plan for Transformation. It’s irresponsible to imply that a desire to see replacement units built means sacrificing commercial development opportunities; doing so deliberately pits people who need affordable housing against people who want to see an increase in economic development. It is possible to want both, and to expect elected officials to be accountable to delivering results on both issues.

A clear and apparent trend is now underway with regard to the use of former CHA development sites. The land is quickly being sold off for commercial development, without a definitive, publicly announced plan for the relocation of units that were originally slated for that land. I have raised this issue with elected officials in public meetings and in the Hyde Park Herald over the past few years, and I wholeheartedly believe that elected officials and the Chicago Housing Authority should be responsible for publicly sharing plans for replacement housing before the land is sold off for other purposes.

After displacing thousands of people, the Chicago Housing Authority committed to replace an agreed upon number of public housing units on the former CHA development sites. The Chicago Housing Authority, which has had an enormous financial surplus over the last few years (largely in part to collecting money from HUD for vacant public housing units, not distributing 13,000 housing choice vouchers and dollars accumulated due to the slow development of replacement housing), has not been held accountable for replacing these units. Removing the residents from the sites before replacement housing was erected has made it difficult for families to organize for the right to return, and has allowed both the CHA and elected officials to transfer the use of this land without a great deal of resistance. Last year two entire blocks of the former Robert Taylor site were sold off for the development of a tennis complex and recently a significant portion of the former Ida B. Wells site was transferred to Mariano’s. Again, I strongly believe we need economic development, but not at the expense of housing for working and low-income people. Clear plans for replacement housing should be shared with the public before the land is transferred. I support the “Keeping the Promise Ordinance,” which will require CHA to develop plans for replacement housing before the sale of CHA land that was slated for replacement housing.

I attended a meeting last week in the 3rd Ward in which there was a discussion about development of the former Harold Ickes site. The plans called for commercial and residential development, but did not include 202 units that were originally promised in the Harold Ickes development plan from 2007. When questions were raised about this issue, and the consistent transfer of CHA land for commercial development, Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) stated that things cannot return to the way they used to be on State Street because the community has other needs. A desire to see the commitments kept by CHA to restore the agreed upon percentage of the units lost, is in no way a demand to see the dilapidated conditions of former CHA sites (largely caused by CHA mismanagement) return to the State Street corridor — nor is it a position against commercial development. It is also important to remember that an additional percentage of the housing was slated for affordable housing, and at a time when rental cost in the Bronzeville area is escalating, this housing is desperately needed. Commitments were made and those commitments should be kept.

I wholeheartedly support commercial development in the 3rd and 4th wards, but I will continue to be vocal about the commitments made to displaced folks that were stakeholders in this community and the need for more affordable housing for working people. It is possible to do both, and we should not accept less.

JayTravis is a former program officer at the Woods Fund and former executive director at the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization.