Enough with the excuses: it is time for CHA, Related Midwest to build market rate housing in Roosevelt Square
June 7, 2019

The Roosevelt Library building on Taylor Street has provided some housing in Roosevelt Square, but much more is needed as the community grows.

“The neighborhood is beyond upset.” These are the words of frustration expressed by Joe Esposito, president of the Little Italy Chicago Neighborhood Association (LICNA), whose feelings represent not only his group, but many others as well who are fed up with the slow drag that the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and developer Related Midwest have taken over the 19 years of the Plan for Transformation on the Near West Side. The plan called for completely transforming CHA’s ABLA community and other portions of the Taylor Street neighborhood to create the much ballyhooed Roosevelt Square.

Gazette Chicago has been covering this process since it began in the early 1990s. We were excited by Roosevelt Square’s promise for the future and the impact it would have on ABLA residents and the community at large. These days, our excitement has waned considerably, along with so many others in the Little Italy community who have stuck it out over the years and continue to support the vision of population and job growth that could emulate what has been taking place in West Loop and South Loop neighborhoods, here on a smaller scale based on land availability.

Nineteen years later, what do CHA, Related Midwest, two former mayors (Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel), and a host of aldermen have to show for it?

Not enough to step out along Taylor Street and do a happy dance.

Well, we do have a hodge-podge of new buildings filling in some of the open spaces in the large swath of land bounded by Taylor Street, Racine Avenue, Roosevelt Road, and Loomis Street. In fairness, these buildings have adhered to the Transformation Plan’s “one-third” formula for mixed use blending CHA, affordable, and market rate units. Yet, there never has been any rhyme or reason as to how CHA and Related Midwest determined to fill in those pockets, but the community was patient and glad to see Roosevelt Square coming together. Or so we thought.

Nineteen years later, the two Loomis Court mid-rises and the Robert Brooks low-rise units have undergone rehabilitation. Yet where are the jobs for these CHA residents and the opportunities for them to own their own local businesses, as the Transformation Plan promised? 

We also have the Little Italy Branch Library’s recent opening, including 73 apartment units above, with 37 designated for CHA residents, 29 earmarked as affordable units, and seven as market rate. Much fanfare came along with the grand opening, as former Mayor Emanuel, CHA representatives, 28th Ward Alderman Jason Ervin, Related Midwest officials, and others gladly saddled up for the traditional ribbon-cutting photo opportunity. Let’s not forget that LICNA had threatened the City and CHA with a lawsuit based on the revised formula for the apartment building’s mix of units as its frustration grew over the lag on building market rate housing.

Let’s also not forget that CHA’s 2015 Master Plan called for a reformulated mix of housing that increased the market rate units to 43%, with CHA units coming in at 32% and affordable units at 25%. And, that at a September 17, 2017, meeting at the former National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame on Taylor Street, CHA and Related Midwest promised to build 50 market rate homes on Grenshaw Street in 2018. It’s been 21 months and counting since their promise at that public meeting, and not a spade has hit the ground for a new home yet.

In our lead story on page one, we shared that CHA’s draft fiscal year 2019 Moving to Work annual report to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development calls for CHA and Related Midwest to create 50 new for-sale units. The report did not elaborate on where officials would locate those units, nor did it give any timetable, and the list of projects slated for 2019 does not mention them.

This would make anyone dizzy. And some wonder why people are “beyond upset?”

Expansion at both Rush University Medical Center and the University of Illinois at Chicago are going to increase the numbers of Rush and UIC workers in the area, and those workers are going to want housing so they can live close by. In addition, UIC has a rapidly growing student enrollment, projected to increase from 32,000 to 35,000, and many of those additional students are going to want to live close to campus as well.

Rush and UIC each are operating under a Master Plan for expansion.

Rush is building an 11-story, 530,000-square-foot outpatient care center at Ashland Avenue and Harrison Street. The Rush Master Plan also calls for expanded research facilities and, in conjunction with nearby Malcolm X College, a new teaching space.

UIC’s plan includes a Drug Discovery and Innovation Pavilion, Ambulatory Surgery Center, College of Business building, College of Engineering building, Advanced Chemical Technology Building, Computer Design Research and Learning Center, and hospital expansion.

The area needs more housing, yet we get the same old yarn from CHA and Related Midwest: It’s challenging to get funding in today’s marketplace. Oh yeah? Well, we don’t see Related Midwest running away from The 78, a project along the Chicago River, where it wants to get in on the action of a $5 billion development that includes the new Discovery Partners Institute, a collaborative research institute that will include UIC and other university and corporate partners.

No more excuses, CHA and Related Midwest. If you cannot find a way to work together to get the funding and start building the market rate housing in Roosevelt Square within the next 12 months, and create an actual plan in writing that you will share with this community, then we ask LICNA and the residents of Little Italy to come together and demand that Alderman Ervin march into City Hall and explain to Mayor Lori Lightfoot how the community has been receiving the short end of the stick for 19 long years.

If this doesn’t light a fire under the CHA and Related Midwest, then we ask Mayor Lightfoot to do what she can to turn the remaining land over to a private developer and make sure Roosevelt Square is at last completed.

The Little Italy community has been patient long enough. It is “beyond upset,” and we cannot blame it one bit.