Is Roosevelt Square sustainable?

Stephen Ross is the founder and Chairman of Related Cos, the developer of Roosevelt Square. He lives with his family in New York City and according to Forbes is one the the world’s wealthiest billionaires. Mr. Ross is very generous and he’s a big fan of urban sustainability. On May 20th of this year, Related Cos announced that Mr. Ross donated $30.5 million to the World Resources Institute (WRI) in Washington, D.C. to establish the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. Yet, Roosevelt Square fails by almost every objective measure to realize Related Cos’ stated corporate vision or to be an example of Related’s commitment to sustainability. Roosevelt Square is not sustainable for its residents, for our community, for the CHA, for the City of Chicago or for Related Cos.

Nearly two decades ago, in 1996, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded $24.3 million to the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA). It was the first of $200 million of public money that would soon follow to “revitalize” the ABLA (Addams, Brooks, Loomis and Abbott) Homes development in our community (Please see C4C’s Roosevelt Square Brief to learn more about Roosevelt Square). At 3,623 units of federal public housing, some of which dated back to 1938 (Jane Addams Homes opened that year), ABLA was one of the nation’s largest and among its oldest federal public housing developments. By 1996,  it had so deteriorated that only 1,050 units were leased to occupants. On June 19, 1998, Federal District Court Judge, Marvin Aspen, issued an order authorizing the CHA to build approximately 1,084 new public housing units to replace those which had so deteriorated as to be nearly uninhabitable and to develop a smaller number of market rate for sale, affordable for sale and affordable rental housing units on the site.

Now, nearly two decades of time and effort by well paid public employees at the federal and local levels and public expenditures of at least $200 million later, only 158 units of market rate housing have been built and sold and some of the original public housing units on the site renovated. Much of the site is vacant land and most of the new market rate housing is rented out while some of it was voluntarily walked away from by its owners who chose voluntary foreclosure just to escape the development and our community. Only 890 total units of low income, affordable rental and affordable for sale housing have been built or renovated and much of this has a long, well documented history of mismanagement by the private management company CHA pays to manage it (Please see photos, page 7, C4C’s Roosevelt Square Brief and ABLA Visit By Terry Peterson – Chicago Tribune).

Connecting4Communities (C4C) successfully advocated for CHA to procure new master planning technical services for Roosevelt Square. The master planning team that CHA selected is exceptional and they will produce a new master plan for Roosevelt Square in the next six months or so. C4C is advocating for an innovative re-planning of Roosevelt Square that will include exciting new sustainability features such as a public space that will be developed as an urban farm for new restaurants that would be located on the farm and which could also be planted by community residents and used as a community gathering space, LEED certified buildings, and other sustainable design features that will help Related Cos and Mr. Ross realize a sustainable vision. He need look no farther than just across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn for exciting examples of innovative New York City sustainability that Roosevelt Square might emulate.