The new Cabrini-Green is moving forward, but some locals have mixed feelings about recent development efforts.
During a Feb 4, open house, the Chicago Housing Authority showed the community its plans for a new development on the Cabrini-Green site, which will include spaces for retail and new mixed-income housing units.
The plan will also incorporate the remaining Cabrini-Green row houses, some of which have already been rehabilitated for residential use.
Cabrini-Green, located on the Near North Side, was once home to one of the city’s notorious high-rise public housing communities. Constructed between 1942 and 1962, the complex was originally an example of cutting-edge urban planning, providing affordable housing to low-income families and industrial workers.
But the high-rises and row houses that comprised the development became a hub of poverty, drugs and violence. In 2000, the Chicago Housing Authority began implementing the “Plan for Transformation,” paving the way for the demolition of thousands of those high-rises, including at Cabrini-Green. The last Cabrini-Green high-rise was demolished in 2011.
“We have to come to some agreement on how it’s going to be effective for residents, not just developers,” said Raymond Richard, a former 35-year Cabrini-Green resident.
According Sharnette Brown, CHA’s Cabrini-Green development manager, the new housing complexes will be divided into three unit types — 50 percent reserved for market-rate renters, 30 percent for public housing residents and 20 percent for affordabl housing renters.
“Our plans are to bring back public housing residents — that is our first and foremost mission,” Brown said, stressing that bringing back those displaced by the demolitions was the agency’s primary goal.
By combining renters of different incomes, Brown said the housing agency is “making sure we don’t have pockets of isolated poverty.”
There are 434 public housing units already in this community, both on CHA land and with private developers, and the agency has an agreement to increase that number to at least 700, according to Brown.
Rita Young, 54, lives in an affordable housing unit in a rehabbed Cabrini-Green row house. She’s encouraged by the focus on moving back former residents. But, she adds, there needs to be an effort to ensure those negative aspects of the old neighborhood don’t return.
Young recalled that when she moved from the suburbs into the neighborhood last June, she thought it would be different than it is, “more of a mixed-income community.” But the reality of the situation, in her opinion, is very different.
“When I got here, and up until now, there is a lot of drugs and prostitution,” Young said. “When I come home from work, I’m coming home to a drug-infested building.
“There’s not enough mixing in the mixed-income community,” Young added, noting that she sees wealth and healthier lifestyles just a few blocks away from her neighborhood. Yet, she remains hopeful that these issues will be resolved once the development is completed.
Pamela Gecan, president of American marketing services, said the redevelopment plan will ideally have the “mix” seen in both specific buildings and also within the entire community. And with several vacant buildings there waiting to be redeveloped, Gecan said this could be what’s attracting such negative behaviors Young has been dealing with.
Aaron Balsam, a father of two young children, lives about two miles away and hopes to move into the Cabrini-Green development soon. Balsam, who also expressed hopefulness about the plan, likes the location and wants to see if the mixed-income developments will work.
“I wish neighborhoods were constructed a little more like that,” he said. “We tend to naturally group ourselves with folks in the same ‘group’ as us by definition. So it’s appealing to me.
I’m sure it can come with some tensions as well, but hopefully that can be a real positive thing.”
But not all of the area’s residents are happy about the proposed plan.
Ronda Fish has lived in the neighborhood near Cabrini-Green since 1996, and is frustrated that one of the planned housing complexes is slated for an area she’d like to see converted to a park. Fish and other area residents have gathered 2,500 signatures to petition for their plan.
“We were promised a park in our neighborhood from the very beginning when Mayor [Richard M.] Daley was in office, since the early ’80s,” said Fish, who, like some other residents, doubt that their views will be included in the development.
“The plan is the plan, and that’s how it’s going to be,” said James Martin, a traffic cop who’s worked in the community since 1988. “I doubt they are going to implement our comments.”