Designing and building a successful mixed-income housing development in Chicago involves a delicate recipe of combining low-rise buildings, ample green space, and a wide assortment of residents from different socio-economics groups.
The innovative new plan for the redevelopment of Lathrop Homes, on the east bank of the Chicago River at Diversey Parkway and Clybourn Avenue, calls for 1,116 housing units built in three phases on the northwest edge of Chicago’s wealthy Lincoln Park neighborhood.
The new residential mix includes 400 public housing units, 222 affordable rental units, and 494 market-rate apartments or condominium residences, according to the Lathrop Community Partners, a group of three development partners selected by the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) in 2010.
If you do the math, 400 public housing units means nearly 36 percent of the apartments would be Section 8. Under the new plan, public housing residents would be scattered in every building throughout the development. Today, only 140 public housing families reside at Lathrop Homes.
The plan calls for a dozen Depression-era buildings to be razed to make way for new residential and retail development. Nineteen of the existing 31 historic buildings would be renovated.
The banks of the river would be sloped and landscaped, a walking trail and kayak launch are planned. The river walk would be surrounded by 11 acres of restored green space. The grounds of Lathrop Homes, originally designed by architect Jens Jensen, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Architect renderings of the new and renovated apartments at Lathrop Homes show swank, open kitchens that features a breakfast bar, cabinets, new appliance package complete with dishwasher.
Although the historic landscaping still is intact, many of the existing buildings at the 32-acre Lathrop Homes are vacant and boarded up. Back in 1938, when the community was built, 925 public housing families resided in brick row houses and smaller walk-up apartment buildings in a campus-like setting.
The mixed-income community concept was born between 2003 and 2006, when Mayor Richard M. Daley tore down a half-dozen of the city’s most infamous public housing projects and replaced them with a revolutionary new residential formula.
One of the most successful new mixed-income projects is Oakwood Shores, a 94-acre community on Oakwood Boulevard (39th Street) between Langley and Ellis avenues in the Oakland/North Kenwood neighborhood on the Mid-South Side.
The predominantly African-American community, which replaced the Ida B. Wells public housing project, was originally planned for 3,000 new housing units. The low-rise development plan called for a mix of affordable and market-rate rentals, affordable and market-rate for sale condominiums and town homes. A $1-million city incentive program was created to give buyers down-payment assistance through a grant.
Mixed-income plans have worked well because of top-notch security, good management and screening of the Section 8 residents. The Oakwood Shores community plan wisely called for limiting the number of public housing residents to only 30 percent of the mixed-income population.
At Oakwood Shores, the plan placed many of the Section 8 units in 6-flats next door to 6-flats of market-rate rental apartments and on the same block with market-rate condos built in 6-unit buildings. Neighbors all got along, and crime was not a problem.
However, 70 percent of the former residents of the Ida B. Wells project were asked to move and offered Section 8 rent vouchers. Many displaced residents were refused admittance into the new mixed-income community because they were considered “undesirable residents” with a criminal history, including drug dealing and gang membership, experts reported.
As recently as 15 years ago, Lathrop Homes had 700 CHA families residing in the community. Attrition and the CHA’s plan to transform the community to mixed-income housing has reduced that number greatly. Today, many deserving low-income families are seeking affordable housing and a better life.
It’s likely that the demographic mix of residents in the new Lathrop community will be much more diverse than Oakwood Shores. Let’s hope the developers of Lathrop Homes review the history of other successful mixed-income communities before they cast their plans in cement.
For more housing news, visit www.dondebat.biz. Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Visit www.escapingcondojail.com.