Perception, reality and Roosevelt Square–an update

Twenty fifteen was a year of considerable accomplishments for C4C; the most significant one being that the new Roosevelt Square master plan was completed with substantial engagement of community residents and ongoing engagement of important Chicago institutions including UIC, Rush, Cook County, and the Illinois Medical District. C4C would like to thank the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) for their work to engage these institutions in this effort.

C4C’s rationale in successfully advocating for a new master plan was two-fold: First, to engage more skillfully the relevant, large institutions in Roosevelt Square’s planning and thus, even more importantly, its successful execution than had been done in years-past; and second, to increase the market-rate residential density of the development to benefit our community, including its poor residents, in a variety of ways. In the area of community engagement, C4C also worked with tenant leadership at the subsidized Barbara Jean Wright Court Apartments at Maxwell St. and Blue Island Ave. to convince HUD to conduct a management occupancy review of this poorly maintained and managed development. The review drove one of the lenders on the property, Prudential, to conduct its own investigation. But, the work is nowhere near done.

Why is increasing the market-rate residential density at Roosevelt Square important? In general, communities of highly concentrated poverty do not thrive for a variety of reasons while people, also for a variety of reasons, accurate and inaccurate, view them differently and often with great prejudice compared to non-impoverished ones. Roosevelt Rd. has been a longstanding black/white socioeconomic dividing line in our community dating back to at least the 1930’s/’40’s. The portion of our community south of Roosevelt Rd. is one of highly concentrated poverty in part because of public housing and large subsidized housing developments proximate to Roosevelt Square. This makes the already challenging and somewhat arbitrary original income distribution of Roosevelt Square units (37.5% for very low income residents, 30% affordable and only 33% unrestricted market-rate units) even more challenging. While C4C would have preferred more than the additional 500 market-rate units that were added to the new master plan, some people are still unfortunately reflexively anti-development/increased residential density in our community, particularly in this context with all its complexity. Five hundred additional market-rate units is a reasonable number and Roosevelt Square will now be 43% market-rate and 32% very low income, with the balance affordable rental and for-sale housing.

Perception and reality when it comes to where people will decide to live are complicated but getting more people with more resources living in our community can go a long way toward making Roosevelt Square successful for rich and poor alike and possibly in keeping businesses here like Powell’s Books Chicago, Bascule, Morgan’s, and the many other nice establishments that have left or will soon be leaving our community because they couldn’t make it. UIC and their leasing agent, CBRE/U.S. Equities, worked with the owner of Powell’s to try to help them stay, but unfortunately it wasn’t successful.

Interesting research from UIC’s Chicago Area Study, run by Professor and Dept. Head of UIC’s Dept. of Sociology, Maria Krysan, helps illuminate how people view their own communities based upon on race/ethnicity. Professor Krysan’s paper, “The Determinants of Neighborhood Satisfaction: Racial Proxy Revisited” is worth a read if you want to understand something about race and community. It cites interesting research–“Recent studies have demonstrated that individuals systematically overestimate levels of crime and disorder in neighborhoods with a higher proportion of African American residents (Quillian and Pager 2001; Sampson and Raudenbush 2004)…” What might the impact of this apparent systematic bias be on property values and perception of community desirability on redeveloped public housing sites like Roosevelt Square?

Roosevelt Square is a highly complex redevelopment of one of the nations’s largest federal public housing developments. It will require a long time to develop and need the sustained, skilled commitment and coordination of several large institutions to ultimately be a success. We would also like to thank CHA CEO, Gene Jones, Jr., his staff, Mayor Emanuel’s office, Ald. Jason Ervin and Patrick Daley Thompson, former 012th District Commander Melissa Staples (now Deputy Chief of Police), the 012th District Police, UIC Police Chief Kevin Booker. the UIC Police force, Carolyn Swinney, Dir. of UIC Community Relations, Related Midwest, the HUD Midwest Region office staff, Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI) and the Solomon Cordwell Buenz/CBRE U.S. Equities master planning team for their work to help ensure the success of Roosevelt Square. Mr. Jones has been a much needed breath of fresh air at the CHA. In his short time there he has already overseen many positive changes and Deputy Chief Staples continues to deeply engage in making our community a safe one despite her expanded and increased responsibilities.