University of Chicago study finds many families seriously considering leaving UIC community

Micere Keels, of the University of Chicago, who recently expedited a Brief Report for C4C based upon some ongoing education research she is conducting in our community, found that “approximately 53% of parents with children in 1st through 8th grade are seriously considering moving from our community compared to a significantly higher 70% of parents with children in kindergarten or younger.”

This should concern residents in our community of all income levels, with our without children, our current Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, the CHA and our aldermen, as should the numerous other shortcomings of the planning and execution of the existing ABLA redevelopment plan known as Roosevelt Square.

Larry Vale, an urban planner from MIT, considered to be one of the nation’s foremost experts in public housing redevelopment, contends that two critical factors for success of any low, or mixed-income, community are stabilizing the existing adult population with appropriate, sustained social service delivery and educating children in the community well.

In 2009, when the Chicago housing market was much weaker and real long term interest rates higher than they are today, Related Midwest made a sizable investment in an expensive real estate market study, architectural design work and the cumbersome approval process in Chicago, including additional incredibly burdensome requirements CHA imposes upon developers beyond that by City of Chicago, for two 60 units apartment buildings to be developed as mixed-income buildings (so-called 80/20 buildings – 80% market rate/20% subsidized units.)

The proposed buildings for 1255 and 1355 W. Roosevelt Rd. also caused Related Midwest to endure the controversy that surrounds development in Chicago. The project received approval; yet financing for these buildings that will make a deal work is non-existent. This is a very bad sign for the future viability of Roosevelt Square and the rest of our community.

Access to quality schools is a critical determinant of any community’s success and quality of life. It’s an important factor in where families with children decide to buy or rent housing and a large body of research has quantified its significant impact on housing values. Given the myriad un-addressed challenges to the successful completion of Roosevelt Square, it’s not difficult to make the case that in our community this access is even more critical than might be expected.

Yet, Roosevelt Square suffers fragmented social service delivery (e.g., CHA covers bare bones social services for Brooks residents – the “B” in ABLA –  but not for residents of Loomis Courts – the “L” in ABLA) and social services for Barbara Jean Wright Court and the numerous other subsidized developments in our small community are few and far between and ineffective. CHA has also failed to manage its Brooks Homes property well and armed robberies have plagued our community.

Smyth Elementary, our community’s only remaining neighborhood school, was racially segregated and socioeconomically isolated by the institutions that planned Roosevelt Square and our entire community suffers the negative impacts of highly concentrated poverty that still exists in much of it, including violent crime, disparities in education and other ills. And all children in Chicago have very limited access to high performing high schools.

So, what’s the broad outline of a strategy for success for our community? It falls into three categories: education; a real plan to socioeconomically mainstream the historically marginalized residents of our community; and retaining effective property managers.

First, CPS, the Chicago Board of Education, the education staff in Mayor Emanuel’s office, and our local elected officials need to get behind the proposal to make Smyth a UIC lab school that has been jointly developed by UIC’s Dean of the College Education, Dr. Alfred Tatum, a highly-regarded expert in literacy development of African American males and the director of UIC’s Reading Clinic, Smyth Principal, Dr. Ron Whitmore, his leadership team and C4C. This effort, along with a new high school, such as Central City High School, which would serve a socioeconomically diverse group of students from every community area in Chicago, would do much to keep people in Chicago, give a badly needed boost to the long-stalled and failing Roosevelt Square and break the cycle of consigning families to inter-generational lifetimes of poverty.

Second, develop a comprehensive alternate plan to the poorly conceived, fragmented, minimal efforts now in place for social service delivery, that also includes a long-term plan for increasing access to economic opportunity in our community for socioeconomically marginalized families, while increasing the number of market-rate housing units available in Roosevelt Square than what the existing poorly conceived and even more poorly executed present plan calls for. Our small community already has a sizable number of poor people in subsidized housing and Roosevelt Square calls for more. With a meaningful plan we could accommodate them well, particularly if we had the significant additional community resources that always follow people of economic means and a plan to do more than just provide a place for them to live. Roosevelt Square has miserably failed the poor people in our community because it was sold as a plan of hopeful transformation while largely delivering uncertainty, vacant land, minimal social service delivery, limited access to education and economic opportunity and now even the inability to get housing built.

Third, CHA needs to hire an effective property manager to manage its Brooks Homes. Ineffective property management harms Brooks residents and our broader community and seriously jeopardizes the future of Roosevelt Square and our community.

The CHA is hoarding hundreds of millions of dollars. Do Mayor Emanuel and the CHA know what to do with it?