“It was kind of a neat community. I felt safe, supported and was proud to be a member of Lathrop Homes,” recalled 63-year-old Jose Zayas, who grew up in the mammoth public housing complex during the 1950's and 1960's.
Today, Lathrop is derelict. Only 170 of the 925 families it once housed remain, because the Chicago Housing Authority says it is too costly to fill vacant units that are slated for redevelopment. Residents endure cracked walls, peeled paint and neglect on a regular basis.
“It took them a year and half to install a shower in my apartment,” said James Carlisle, 53, a lifelong Lathrop resident.
Carlisle hopes redevelopment of Lathrop will revitalize the complex, which was founded in 1938 and sits on 35 acres of prime real estate along the east bank of the Chicago River in Roscoe Village. But he’s skeptical about the process.
So he attended the CHA’S much-anticipated open house on Saturday at New Life Community Church, two blocks from Lathrop. The gathering t was an opportunity for Carlisle and more than 150 other Lathrop and community residents to offer their feedback on the redevelopment proposals put forward by the CHA and its development team, Lathrop Community Partners.
They do not like the fact that all three design concepts will increase the number of units to 1600. Two of the three concepts would require building high rises on the property, due to historic preservation demands from the community.
“One of the parameters given by all the community groups and alderman Scott Waguespack is that we would only support this project if it was 800 - 1200 units--maximum,” Kay Christ, a Roscoe Village resident, said in an interview.
The CHA said that while high-rise construction is an option, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the solution.
"If historic preservation is priority for the community, then tall buildings might be the solution. But today is an opportunity for us to get feedback from the community. If people have a different priority, then we will look at those options," said James Isaacs, the CHA's office development manager.
The plan also calls for Lathrop to shift from 100 percent public to a predominantly market-rate housing format. Under that plan –- which is drawing a lot of opposition from public housing leaders – Lathrop would be 50 percent market-rate, 25 percent “affordable” units, and 25 percent public housing.
“I disagree with all three concepts because they want to go with 50 percent market-rate housing. It is purely a money-motivated decision, which comes at the expense of homeless people that need public housing,” said the effervescent Robert Davidson, Lathrop’s Local Advisory Council President.
Davidson also fears that none three concepts will include Lathrop’s current residents. “I have repeatedly asked for assurances that residents will be grandfathered into the new community, but have not received them, he said.
The CHA’s Isaacs said in an interview following the open house that current Lathrop residents will be included in whatever new development emerges, and asserted they will be also benefit in other ways from the changes that are coming.
“All three scenarios include 400 units of public housing. But they also include retail development that will enable our residents to work and shop locally,” Isaacs said as he stood in the church corridor.
Twenty feet away from Isaacs, and just outside the New Life church, Zayas led a spirited protest, greeting visitors with a neon yellow pamphlet that says in bold type at the bottom: “We reject all three scenarios and insist that the planning process start over with full community participation.”