The promise and peril of mixed-income housing

Almost 20 years ago, a wrecking ball leveled a 14-story high-rise at the Henry Horner Homes on the city’s Near West Side. What has happened since then is both amazing and disturbing. Horner, a public housing development, became Westhaven Park, a mixed-income community of market-rate renters, homeowners and former Horner residents. The transformation from Horner to Westhaven was a bold leap to create a better environment for public housing residents who had complained of everything from roaches to gangs to unlit stairwells. In many ways, life is better.

Henry Horner Homes, 1993

Dismantling the towers

Twenty years after the demolition of Henry Horner Homes on the city’s Near West Side, former residents don’t think mixed-income housing is working for them.

Living up to a legacy of activism

Vincent Davis, who has lived in the Cabrini-Green housing complex his entire life, is following in the footsteps of his late mother, Lillian Davis Swope, by becoming a housing activist.

CHA wait list exposes Chicago’s affordable housing crisis

More than a quarter of Chicago households–more than 282,000–recently turned to the Chicago Housing Authority in their search for a better or more affordable home. The households are vying for an apartment in public housing or a housing voucher, either of which could be a step up from their current living situations. But the huge response to the four-week registration period for the agency’s wait lists also exposes a glaring need for quality, affordable housing in Chicago. The registration period, which ended Monday, is the first time CHA has opened its public housing wait list since 2010 and its voucher wait list since 2008. The wait lists, for the first time, used a single online application.

Julia C. Lathrop Homes

Aldermen demand local oversight, transparency for CHA

Thirteen aldermen have introduced an ordinance to increase oversight of the Chicago Housing Authority as pressure mounts over continuing revelations of the agency’s hoarding of resources and failure to provide housing. Meanwhile, evidence of the need for local oversight mounts. HUD has put a hold on the proposed swap of CHA land at the former site of the Harold Ickes Homes for an athletic field for Jones College Prep because CHA did not consult with residents on the disposition of the land. At a news conference Wednesday, council members expressed outrage that in an era of budget constraints at every level of government, the CHA has accumulated a cash surplus of $432 million and failed to distribute tens of thousands of housing vouchers, while leaving thousands of units unleased and slowing construction of new housing to a virtual standstill. “How dare they!” thundered Ald.

Chicago lags behind in meeting low-income housing needs

With rents rising and incomes shrinking across the country, the Chicago-area has fallen behind other major metropolitan areas in creating new housing for its poorest families during the past decade. But why? It’s a question that jumped out at us while checking out some interesting new research by a Washington D.C.-based think-tank, the Urban Institute. We were using this interactive map to see how Cook County stacks up with other big cities when it comes to matching “extremely low-income” households with rentals they can actually afford. In Cook County, which is anchored by Chicago, the number of households that fit the extreme poverty status (that means a household of four is getting by on $22,750 or less each year, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) hasn’t exactly grown by leaps and bounds since 2000.

Bare-bones affordable housing plan gets the nod from Chicago aldermen

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s affordable housing plan cleared its first hurdle Tuesday when it was approved 8-2 by the City Council’s Housing and Real Estate Committee. Absent from the measure was a proposed amendment that we wrote about last week that would have given aldermen more authority over how the city’s sister agency, the Chicago Housing Authority, spends down more than $661 million in unrestricted assets the agency is sitting on. The CHA’s swelling account could help offset some steep cuts to affordable housing that are on the horizon, supporters of the amendment say. Under Emanuel’s plan, the city would invest up to $1.3 billion in maintaining or creating housing through 2018. That’s roughly $800 million less than was committed under the city’s last five year-plan, which was rolled out by former Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2009.However, “there wasn’t an opportunity to make changes to the plan,” says Leah Levinger, the director of the Chicago Housing Initiative, a coalition of low-income housing advocates that rallied the aldermanic support. “The chairman wouldn’t take a vote on any amendments.”Now that the plan is moving forward without the change, Levinger says that the Chicago Housing Initiative is “looking to regroup with allies in the City Council who are sympathetic to the goal of preserving the low-income housing that remains in the city.”Nearly half of the council–22 aldermen–signed on to the proposal.