Housing, hope and transportation

Housing, education and transportation: all three are complex, critical determinants of urban quality of life and factors people must consider in selecting where to live. Mayor Emanuel and his administration are driving profound changes in all three of these important aspects of city life. Our community is ground zero for much of the change.


In a meeting last Thursday, in the offices of CHA, with representatives from the Mayor’s Office, Smyth school, the Chicago Police Department, Related Midwest, CHA CEO Mike Merchant, CHA Legal, and C4C with legal counsel, Mr. Merchant committed CHA to developing and issuing a request for proposals for a new master plan for Roosevelt Square by the end of March, 2014 and to procuring services by the end of June, 2014 to develop it. C4C has been meeting and advocating for this for many months with a variety of key players and we are optimistic with Merchant’s new leadership at CHA, but concerned about structural and systemic management issues at the agency. We are also concerned about the damaged brand of Roosevelt Square and its ability to attract market rate renters, let alone owners who would put their equity at risk, given CHA management issues that appear in major media outlets regularly and market-rate Roosevelt Square owners who have voluntarily allowed foreclosure as an exit strategy and not due to financial hardship.

Skilled professionals at Applied Real Estate Analysis, Inc. forecast new housing unit production in Chicago through 2019 to be only 936 new housing units annually in the entire city, if economic conditions remain weak, and up to 6,770 units per year at the most optimistic. Central city already has 6,200 new rental units in the pipeline and a condominium backlog of 750 units, so even the forecast mid-range of 3,426 is probably optimistic given current sales. If current trends continue, about half those new units would be in the central city or strong North Side neighborhoods leaving most other neighborhoods with little growth. We are likely to be one of those communities left with little growth and must leverage any competitive institutionally conferred and other advantages we have over South Loop, West Loop, Streeterville, River North and River West where developers are building and selling. (See City of Chicago’s recently released housing plan, Bouncing Back)

Low demand for housing, a damaged Roosevelt Square brand compounded by the difficulties encountered at all of CHA’s redeveloped sites in retaining original market-rate owners pose more questions than answers. According to a report in Crain’s Chicago Business by another highly respected real estate appraisal firm, the glut of 7,000 unsold condominiums peaked in 2008 and in 2013 condos were selling at a rate of between 150 to 160 units a quarter. It took the market many years to absorb the unsold condo inventory and there is already a supply of new rental units in the pipeline (6,200) comparable in magnitude to the glut of unsold condos in 2008. These data present a host of challenges for Roosevelt Square’s future, for CHA’s procurement process, and for the best master planning team. Related Midwest is a top notch developer and their work elsewhere in Chicago is excellent. Their CHA redevelopments – Roosevelt Square and Lathrop Homes – have been besieged by challenges.


At our meeting CHA seemed to comprehend the importance of engaging adults responsible for children at Smyth school from a social service delivery standpoint since the Smyth leadership and staff have greatly improved school climate over time as the school population became consistent after Smyth suffered from the poor public education planning during the ABLA HOPE VI Revitalization planning for Roosevelt Square that resulted in closing four public schools over eight years with the insidious intent and effect of racially and socioeconmically segregating children in our only remaining neighborhood school. We’ve tried to go down this road of closely connecting CHA social service delivery with Smyth school with former CHA CEO’s Lewis Jordan and Charles Woodyard and it led nowhere. Hopefully Mr. Merchant’s team will make something happen. Roosevelt Square, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, is almost entirely in a census tract of concentrated poverty.

Mayor Emanuel and CPS have been creatively tapping every available source of public and private capital to expand high quality public education options. The difficulty of driving demand for housing in our community will only be compounded by lack of access to high quality public education and requiring parents to seek out schools all over Chicago by having their children lottery or test in to a scarce seat at one of Chicago’s few excellent magnet or selective enrollment grade schools or high schools or obtain a seat in a distant charter school.


Mayor Emanuel’s leadership is driving unprecedented modernization of Chicago’s transportation infrastructure and unprecedented inter-institutional cooperation in our community. Important changes in our community are Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) planned for Ashland Ave., the UIC and Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning partnership to develop a multi-modal transportation plan for our UIC community and a $23 million plan by CTA to upgrade the IMD Blue Line stop. C4C has been as engaged and supportive as possible in the planning process for Bus Rapid Transit for Ashland Ave. A retired City of Chicago Department of Transportation traffic engineer, however, has done a solid critical analysis of this project that should raise questions in the minds of those at the large foundation paying to advance this project and the City and CTA planners and consultants hired to plan it and sell it to the public. C4C will fully evaluate this new information.