In Chicago, Illinois, the Chicago Reader
- In a win for fair housing advocates,  a federal court issued an [agreed] order committing the Chicago Housing Authority to retaining 525 subsidized housing units on the north side. These units will replace the 525 public housing units that will be lost on the site of the Lathrop Homes as a result of the redevelopment anticipated to begin in 2017.
Though advocates consider the court order a victory in the ongoing fight to preserve affordable housing in integrated north-side neighborhoods, the terms of the order also raise concerns about how long low-income families could count on these new units, and how long they may have to wait for them.
"I think this is a good order—this is what the community asked to have happen," says Kate Walz, an attorney with the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law who represents community groups advocating for the preservation of the lost Lathrop units. However, Walz also argues that observers should "be vigilant" regarding the sort of units that are actually produced—ones large enough to accommodate families struggling to find affordable housing in the private market, or ones that will serve the most easy-to-house CHA families.
"It would be a hollow victory if in the end most of the units are one-bedroom units," says Walz. "We know larger families struggle in the voucher program to identify larger housing."
Another point of concern is the possibility that project-based vouchers—a five-to-20 year contract between a private owner and a housing authority to maintain a privately owned unit as public housing—will make up the bulk of the replacement units. The court order specifies that to count as a replacement unit the contract must be made for 20 years; if the CHA enters into a project-based voucher contract for, say, ten years, then the unit only counts as half of a replacement. It remains to be seen whether the court order will lead to the creation of lots of short-term affordable housing units, or provide housing approaching the long-term affordability of true public housing units.
Lathrop residents and their allies had wanted the court to require at least a 99-year commitment for affordability.
"But I guess some gain is better than no gain," says J.L. Gross, a veteran and 27-year resident of Lathrop who has been a leading voice for the community. "We'll accept it, but it doesn't mean we're not gonna push for something longer."
The order doesn't commit the CHA to any time line for delivering the 525 replacement units. And history has shown that the CHA is more than able to drag its feet on nonlegally binding promises—the so-called Plan for Transformation was supposed to deliver 25,000 units of public housing by 2010 but remains unfinished nearly seven years past that deadline.
The CHA didn't respond to a request for comment.