Transformation Plan From Outer Space

The Tribune summarizes its examination on Sunday of the CHA’s vaunted Plan for Transformation thusly: “Thousands of families displaced. Hundreds of millions of dollars spent. Years behind schedule. What went wrong with Chicago’s grand experiment.”

To which I can only say: Duh.

The Tribune used nearly 4,300 words to detail what many of us have been arguing for years – that the critics were right from the beginning, that the Plan for Transformation is a failure, and that it was always about slum clearance, PR, and developers, not about housing policy or the city’s neediest residents.

That’s not to say the Trib’s 4,300 words are wasted; in fact, it’s a fine story. It’s just that the paper is a little late proclaiming one of the biggest feathers in the mayor’s cap a grand experiment gone wrong. Let’s take a closer look.

“A Tribune investigation found that almost nine years into what was billed as a 10-year program, the city has completed only 30 percent of the plan’s most ambitious element – tearing down entire housing projects and replacing them with new neighborhoods where poor, working-class and wealthier families would live side by side.”

30 percent!

“In fact, of those public housing units that have been built, nearly half went up before the plan officially started in 2000.”

15 percent!

“Hundreds of additional units are under construction, and Jordan said the current goal is to complete the plan by 2015. But some insiders concede it might take another 10 years beyond that.”

Some think 2016 might be a good goal!

“Former residents may be the least surprised by the situation. From the start, many predicted they would be displaced and forgotten while developers grabbed coveted swaths of city real estate for re-development and private profit.”

And they were right. The real question: how could a giddy press corps be so wrong? First, because they are naive. Second, because it was an irresistible storyline of a courageous mayor exchanging dangerous eyesores for bustling Edens. Third, a failure to examine the facts both on paper and on the ground due to the first two reasons.

“[T]he plan has added to the growing housing crisis for the poor in Chicago, where more than 56,000 have been on a waiting list for years to get public housing. The list has been closed to new applicants since 2001.”

This has never been about housing the poor.

“As the largest redevelopment of public housing ever undertaken in the country, Chicago’s effort mirrors the ambition of other Daley efforts to reshape the city. It also parallels major Daley endeavors in featuring a roster of high-profile allies and friends.”

Bingo.

“At what once was Stateway Gardens, part of the most infamous wall of public housing in the world, construction is being overseen by a team that includes Allison Davis, a powerful developer with close ties to City Hall. The new Park Boulevard on South State Street sits not far from U.S. Cellular Field, home of the White Sox, on what has become prime real estate. It also stands as the most dramatic example of troubles with the city’s strategy.

“As of the end of March, Davis’ team had managed to complete just 53 of the 439 public housing units planned – the lowest number of any CHA development. Another member of the development team has filed for bankruptcy in the wake of the national housing slump.

“Amid all this, one aspect seems to be prospering: On the site’s northeast corner, a Starbucks, Jimmy John’s and FedEx Kinko’s have moved into one of Park Boulevard’s new storefronts.

“Those who control the commercial strip would be familiar to anyone wise to the ways of Chicago: Davis himself and Robert Vanecko, a nephew of the mayor.”

Like clockwork.

I once toured the Cabrini-Green area with Allison Davis in the early days of its transformation and I found him curiously uninterested in the philosophy behind the change. “It’s fun,” he memorably said of his work.

“Davis declined to answer specific questions from the Tribune but did defend his work at Stateway.

“‘Do you know what was there before?’ he said. ‘Did you see anyone park on the street there and walk to a Sox game?'”

1. Davis doesn’t feel like he owes the public an explanation even though he’s cashed in on taxpayer giveaways.

2. So demolishing Stateway Gardens was all about parking for White Sox games?

“But housing advocates worried about displacing large numbers of people – an estimated 7,000 families – so quickly and urged the city to move more deliberately.

“‘It cannot be sound public policy to take down high-rises willy-nilly if the displaced families must move back into segregated, impoverished neighborhoods’ in other parts of the city, concluded a group long connected with Chicago public housing, Business and Professional People for the Public Interest.

“The plan’s independent monitor predicted precisely that result early on.

“‘We have been told by representatives of several housing groups and experts that . . . current vertical ghettos will be replaced with horizontal ghettos, made up overwhelmingly of African-American families at or below the poverty level,’ former U.S. Atty. Thomas Sullivan warned in 2002.”

Nonetheless, Daley was lauded not only locally but nationally for his heroic efforts.

“The slow pace of construction, coupled with stringent rules on employment and background checks that block most residents from returning, now means there is little hope for many of them to return to their refurbished neighborhoods.”

Which was (supposedly) the central premise of the plan.

“In response to questions from the Tribune, the mayor’s office sent a prepared statement that said, in part:

“‘We are pleased with both the process and the progress of the Plan for Transformation. The communities formerly blighted by CHA high-rises are thriving with new homes, new residents, new schools, new businesses and jobs flocking to places that have become communities of choice.'”

Once again, Daley will not deign to answer reporters’ questions – unless they are desperate cries at a press conference that he can shrug off with comments like, “No hee-haw.”

“Commercial space presented another way for developers at Stateway to make money.

“The development team, including Allison Davis, leased that land from the CHA for 99 years in exchange for a one-time payment of about $200,000. It then built the storefronts that were later sold to a firm controlled by Davis and Vanecko, the mayor’s nephew, which used money from city employee pension funds to purchase the space for $4.2 million.

“The pension funds, in turn, are paying Davis and Vanecko fees to manage their investment in the property.

“Besides controlling the retail space that holds the Starbucks, Davis is also an official of the property management firm at Stateway, state records show. The firm, Urban Property Advisors, or UPA, is run by Davis’ son Cullen.”

All of that is just a coincidence, though. No hee-haw.

“Shortly after the firm was created in 2001, Allison Davis, UPA and other companies connected to Davis began donating to the Democratic organization in the 17th Ward. That is the political base of Terry Peterson, then the CHA’s chief executive.

“By the time Peterson left the CHA five years later, Davis and the companies had donated more than $22,000. Peterson told the Tribune those contributions did not influence CHA decisions.”

As reported by the Residents’ Journal and BGA.

The question now is whether the Tribune – and others – will stay on the story, or just disappear for another couple of years.

Photo by Payton Chung.

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5 responses to “Transformation Plan From Outer Space

  1. warren4321

    Estate market price keep dropping since the explode of subprime crisis.
    Don’t think the effect has gone, big impact is yet to come.
    Better get ready for recession. Prevention is better than cure.

  2. I am a resident in one of the red brick 3 flats on Division Street and have mixed feelings on the issue. I love the idea of mixed income living because I do feel it offers positive surroundings to people who have been trapped in horrible situations for too long. I don’t like however, the idea that people who prove over and over again they are willing to contribute nothing and only look to figure out ways to exploit the welfare system should be entitled to free housing for life. Public housing was never been meant to be a permanent solution for people to aspire to, only a temporary assistance while they try to get on their feet. Most of my neighbors that live here now with section 8 assistance are fantastic people and are actively making their lives better, and I am proud of them. They deserve to be here and I was willing to pay a market price if it helps support this goal.

    But as for the families who continue to neglect the brand new furnishings handed to them, continue to neglect their children and disrespect their neighbors, I don’t feel bad if they also do not get a say in where they get to live. They are not children, they should take responsibility. As for the politicians who have arranged these situations for their benefit, they may not be any better people than the women that use having children as their only form of income, but at least this neighborhood is a lot safer and more beautiful than it used to be. I think the plan is much better for the city, no matter if it takes a little longer than scheduled. What project hasn’t been extended around here?

  3. This was a land grab, pure and simple. The proximity of Cabrini-Green to the ever-expanding Gold Coast and Old Town area? The proximity of Robert Taylor to the new South Loop and new Sox ballpark? Etc. Etc. Etc. Just call it what it is and not some path to a better life for Chicago’s disadvantaged, which it has clearly, in the vast majority of case, proven not to be.

  4. I live in Humboldt Park.I’ve lived here for 20 years and I continue to see the amount of ‘scattered site’ dwellings (amongst the most consentrated in the city) increase. When was the last time Lincoln Park had some scattered site built?Scattered Site My Ass!

  5. JW Fort Lauderdale FL

    Anyone with a brain knew before the first building was bulldozed that this was never about new housing for people in the projects. The land these projects were on suddenly was valuable, not only in price but in potential. The reason things are moving slowly (stateway gardens) e.g. is because the housing market is down. They dont want to build more low income units, they want all of the middle and upper income people in first, then scatter a few project families around (carefully screened and selected) e.g. you got a rap sheet give it up bro cause ya aint gettin in here. In one way having the blight of the projects gone is good, but don’t expect that the hood will ever be the same, most will never return, and that was the plan from the start, ten years from now you will never know those projects exsisted, I’m glad that books and documentares have been written and made so that this chapter of history is remembered, but I think the mistakes of the past will be the mistakes of the future. The government of this country wants to end welfare completely, end AFDC, end section 8, end it all. If McCain is elected you can count on more of the same. The day of welfare as an income and public housing is drawing to a close, I suggest you get some job skills and start looking for a job cause sitting home raising kids is not going to get you anything very soon. I estimate that the government programs will be gone by 2020. This is a wake up call for those at the bottom. The cities dont want huge populations of poor blacks, so they are shifting them around hoping a few fall off here and few fall off there. If you have not read it yet check out “American Project” its a great book that really shows the inventive and creative ways people of the projects learned to survive.

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