Chicago officials are moving forward with plans to repurpose former public housing land for a new Near South Side high school, reigniting frustrations with housing advocates who say the city is failing to deliver on its promises to black residents.
Neighbors and community leaders gathered Monday to protest a vote this week by the Chicago Housing Authority board that, if passed, would move toward leasing part of the land that made up the former Harold L. Ickes homes at Chicago Public Schools.
Group leaders called out elected officials, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot, for pushing the plan forward without enough public engagement.
“It’s been an issue with the city of Chicago,” Roderick Wilson, executive director of community organization Lugenia Burns Hope Center, said at a protest on Monday. “We thought we were going to get something different when we got Lori Lightfoot, but we have the same playbook.”
Tuesday’s CHA meeting is expected to see a vote to lease 1.7 acres of the former Harold Ickes site at 24th and State Streets – once a public housing complex until it was vacated in 2010 – to CPS for a new $120 million high school near the South Side. In exchange, CPS would secure two parcels across the street which make up a total of 2 acres and exchange that land with CHA.
The CHA meeting comes weeks after the plan appeared to have stalled.
Pedro Martinez, chief executive of CPS, withdrew the school district’s proposal at the eleventh hour last month, just before the school board voted on the project. It faced an uncertain fate, with some board members disapproving of the project due to its potential harm to nearby majority black schools and the community’s public housing issues – issues outlined in a Sun report. -Times and WBEZ. Martinez pledged to reintroduce the proposal after necessary public engagement; a CPS spokeswoman said Monday the district has yet to decide when that will happen.
One of the board members who planned to vote against the project said last week he believed Lightfoot had since ousted him from the board because of his opposition. It was replaced by the old Ald. Michael Scott Jr., a Lightfoot ally.
A CHA spokesperson defended the proposal, saying the school would “serve students from several CHA developments [and] would directly benefit families living in social housing for years to come.
“Schools complement housing and provide all families, including those living in subsidized housing, access to resources and opportunities to help them thrive,” CHA said in a statement.
The CHA is also set to vote to sell the land of the former site of Robert Taylor’s homes at West 44th and South Dearborn Street in Bronzeville, which has been vacant since 2005, for “new housing for sale”, according to the agenda for Tuesday’s board meeting. .
Lawyers called on Monday for the decision on 24 and state land to be postponed after a community meeting with the CHA is not scheduled until Thursday – two days after the vote. Wilson said attorneys and neighbors were notified of the decision to rent the property last week.
“Ultimately, what CHA is doing helps gentrify our community and helps displace black people,” Wilson said, urging the city to focus on keeping black families in Chicago by building more affordable housing before new schools.
The CPS said a new school would serve the communities of South Loop, Chinatown and Bridgeport, with the region’s Asian American population particularly hoping for a school that would meet the language and immigration needs of families. Officials and advocates predict the school will enroll about 40% Asian American children, 30% black students and 30% white children.
“We are CHA residents, and we are poor but we are certainly not stupid,” said Etta Davis, CHA resident and vice chair of the local advisory board for Dearborn Homes. “When black kids lined the State Street corridor for many years, they didn’t worry about us having a high school in that neighborhood. Now we know who this high school is for.
According to the CHA, the proposal is still in a “conceptual” phase and the organization will continue to consult with residents, despite claims from community groups that communication has not taken place.
“To our elected officials, come here and do what you are supposed to do. You’re supposed to be here in this hot sun with us,” Davis said, as the crowd behind her cheered. “Don’t come knocking on my door at election time.”