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Lathrop Homes Protesters Demand CHA Replace 525 Lost Public Housing Units

By Paul Biasco | March 21, 2016 4:50pm
 Lathrop Homes Protest, March 21, 2016
Lathrop Homes Protest
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LATHROP HOMES — A day after eight people were arrested while occupying a vacant unit in the Lathrop Homes complex, housing activists called on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to provide a detailed plan to replace  public housing units that have disappeared from the site.

The protestors demanded that CHA and the mayor provide a plan for 525 public housing units that the CHA has promised to build on the North Side to replace the units that as the Lathrop Homes becomes a mixed-income site.

“After months and years of asking the city when and where it plans to open these units, we believed there was nothing left for us to do but to occupy," Erik Christensen, pastor at St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Logan Square, said Monday. "This morning having not heard a word from the mayor's office, we are asking once again if not here, where? If not now, when?”

The 10 protesters who occupied a shuttered unit Sunday afternoon during a "Occupy Palm Sunday" protest remained in the unit from about 2 p.m. until they were arrested about 8 p.m.

The eight people who were arrested included local religious leaders and housing rights activists. Laura Donaldson, who has been on CHA's waiting list for years and has been living in shelters, occupied the unit with her daughter, but neither were arrested because the police did not have a wheelchair-accessible  police van.

All eight who were arrested were cited for trespassing and are due in court April 22.

"We are not going away," Christensen said. "We will keep fighting on this land in this place across the city until the city has a real conversation about the needs of people who are waiting on the list for public housing.”

Officials with the CHA asked the group to leave the property near the intersection of Diversey Parkway and the North Branch of the river, and to continue the protest on the public way, but the group refused and were arrested, according to a statement from the housing authority.

"As plans for the redevelopment of Lathrop move forward, it is important to remember that these plans were crafted with full input from the community, who were part of the decision-making process and worked with CHA, the alderman, advocates, longtime affordable housing developers and other stakeholders to make decisions about the shared vision for the future of their community," the CHA's statement read.

Bruce Ray, pastor of Logan Square's Kimball Avenue Church, said the unit was open and easy for the group to enter.

"It was an exciting night," he said. "You know people are desperate whenever they are willing to submit to arrest."

The CHA's new CEO, Eugene Jones Jr., had committed to the replacement housing in a letter, but protestors say the promise was vague and lacks any details.

Lathrop Homes, which was built in 1938 and includes 925 public housing units, has been for the most part boarded up and sat vacant in recent years. Only 150 of the units are currently occupied.

The new redevelopment proposal, which was approved by the City Council's Zoning Committee last week, includes 1,208 units of housing, 400 of which will be public housing, retail storefronts, a revamped riverwalk and landscaping.

"We can’t stop gentrification no more than we can stop the sun from rising," said J.L. Gross, who has lived at Lathrop Homes for 26 years. "What we want is an opportunity. Because we can’t pay the freight as far as taxes, we shouldn’t be penalized for that. A person should not be punished for their circumstances in life. All we are asking for is a decent place to live."

Miguel Suarez, a longtime Lathrop Homes resident, called on Emanuel to step in and help address the CHA's long waitlist and provide details of how the units that are lost at the Lathrop Homes site will be restored.

"Since the year 2000 [the CHA] has been talking about rehabilitating Lathrop," Suarez said. "Since then they have not only broken their promises, but they have really gotten people to move out of here with section 8 vouchers and [through] other ways."

Suarez said the CHA's "record of breaking promises is outrageous," and that residents "aren't giving up."

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