The last high-rise building of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing projects fell in 2011, leaving only row homes and several dozen acres of vacant land as a testament to both the promise of midcentury public housing initiatives, and the challenges that ultimately doomed many of them.
Now the Chicago Housing Authority has released draft redevelopment plans for the series of near North Side parcels, which total over 65 acres, calling for mixed-use, mixed-income development, about five acres of new parks, and a new ‘L’ Brown Line stop at Division and Orleans Streets. The plan targets LEED certification for neighborhood development.
Since a working group of architects, planners, and city officials began studies for the Near North Redevelopment Initiative in the 1990s, buildings have begun to fill in the sites. Last year, Target opened a 150,000-square-foot store on the corner of North Larrabee and West Division streets. Not far away is Helmut Jahn’s Near North SRO and a slew of mid- to high-rise condos and rentals that have tapped into the lucrative real estate markets of surrounding neighborhoods like Old Town and River North.
The National Park Service deemed the remaining Frances Cabrini Row Homes eligible for listing on its National Register of Historic Properties in 1994. Of the 583 housing units within the site, 146 have been rehabilitated, while the rest are vacant. The redevelopment plan recommends the demolition of 18 existing row homes to make way for an extension of the nearby street grid, but preserves about 30 percent of the historic properties.
It also calls for a new 4.42-acre park at the corner of West Blackhawk Avenue and North Larrabee Street, as well as additions to two existing parks in the southeast section of the redevelopment area. Some of that increase would come from a reduction of Stanton Park, for a net addition of 4.96 acres of Chicago Park District space.
CHA’s plan for the remaining land aims for “a sustainable mixed income / mixed use community,” but details will not surface until after a request for proposals from developers is issued on April 1.
The Cabrini-Green redevelopment plan comes amid controversy surrounding the agency’s sluggish progress on delivering 25,000 apartments as part of its tear down and rebuild plan—a goal it set in 2000. The deadline was 2010, now extended to 2015.
Housing advocates have slammed CHA for sitting on as much as $661 million in taxpayer money—an amount CHA says is actually $315 million, not counting future receivables—while affordable housing waiting lists grow. CHA says the housing market crash disrupted plans to spend the federal money, which has been accumulating at a greater rate than the agency has been spending it for years. Officials have said they plan to build 586 units this year.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration released its first five-year plan for housing, the city’s fifth since 1994, in January. Dubbed “Bouncing Back,” its proposals include unloading some of the 8,000 vacant residential parcels that the city owns, and accelerating the micro-market recovery program aimed at stabilizing neighborhoods hit hard by the foreclosure crisis. Titles of previous five-year plans specifically address “affordable” housing—a word missing for the first time from this plan’s title. But CHA maintains in the draft plan that private development provides the bulk of Chicago’s affordable housing.
In 2013, CHA launched a new strategic initiative, Plan Forward: Communities That Work, which reaffirmed its commitment to redevelop or replace 25,000 subsidized housing units by 2015. Cabrini Green could be part of that push, but CHA representatives said it is too early to tell how much of the area’s new development will serve low-income residents.