Mixed Stories at Parkside
CHICAGO – Deborah Hope doesn’t feel at home in her $300,000 apartment.
Like a handful of former Cabrini-Green public housing residents, the 52-year-old mother of two lives in mixed-income housing within blocks of the former Cabrini row house where she spent 20 years of her life. Hope’s unit is one of 72 in the Parkside of Old Town development, part of the Chicago Housing Authority’s $1.5 billion Plan for Transformation, which is replacing high-rise public housing with a combination of traditional public housing and new mixed-income developments.
Hope no longer fears stray bullets flying through her window. The crossing guard of 25 years doesn’t see children get beat up on the way home from school – it happened to her son several times in the pre-transformed Cabrini. She’s thankful to call Parkside her physical home.
“When you go from shit to sugar, you’re grateful for that,” Hope said. “I am happy.”
But deeper than that happiness, there’s emptiness in Hope. Security doesn’t quell her feelings of isolation in a drastically different neighborhood.
She gets on the elevator and expects no greeting from neighbors. Apartment staff checks up on her to make sure she’s keeping her apartment clean. It makes her nervous. Hope doesn’t invite friends over for barbeques because she thinks the noise will get her in trouble. She begins to cry when discussing the darkest part of mixed-income housing.
“It’s an experiment,” she said. “But you’re playing with people’s lives.”
Transforming Public Housing
On paper, Parkside is a utopia: rich and poor, blacks, whites and everyone in between living together. The development – expected to cost $250 million upon completion – sits on 18 acres on Division Street between Sedgwick and Halsted streets, once the dividing line of rival gangs. Parkside is one of five developments on the near North Side that combines three types of residencies: public housing, affordable housing and market-rate.
Chicago is not the first place to try mixed-income housing: government assistance for mixed communities has been around since the 1960s. Massachusetts has a history of mixed-income development and New York introduced progressive housing ideas in the 1980s. Other cities, like Chicago, started mixed-income housing initiatives in 1993 after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development introduced Hope VI, a federally funded plan to eradicate blighted housing projects.
The Chicago Housing Authority provided a $22 million loan to fund the first phase of development at Parkside, covering the cost of its units. In addition, the city provided tax-increment financing money, a loan using money assumed to arrive later via taxes, to Parkside’s developer, Holsten Real Estate Development Corp.
But then came the housing crisis. The Daley Administration and JP Morgan Chase and Co. bailed out Holsten in early 2010 after the developer nearly defaulted on a construction loan. The city gave Holsten a $3.4 million public subsidy earlier than expected – the development was supposed to sell 85 percent of new units before receiving more city money for construction. For its part, Chase extended the $32 million construction loan it provided Holsten.
Holsten is working on a second phase of development that will add 263 more units to Parkside. With the loan extension, construction is expected to be completed this winter. A banner still hangs near the roof of one of Parkside’s buildings saying ‘Move In Now,’ and Holsten has slashed unit prices by one-third the original cost per apartment.
Holsten declined to comment on this story.
The CHA provides 1,896 families citywide with mixed-income housing, according to an April report by the agency. The authority plans to add nearly 6,000 mixed-income units citywide by 2015 as part of the Plan for Transformation. Before getting accepted into mixed-income housing, residents must pass drug, background and credit checks. They also agree to work a minimum of 30 hours a week unless physically disabled. However, those job rules are flexible for residents struggling to find work, according to a Holsten social service counselor who asked not to be identified.
Some housing experts and residents argue that mixed-income housing, in practice, is social engineering. Others believe developers, who receive millions of dollars of federal and local money to build units, gain an unfair advantage in the housing market.
And in a time when the city of Chicago faces more than $700 million of debt, every public dollar spent is subject to scrutiny.
“The model of using public money to create a mixed-income community environment is a really important thing that we need to understand,” said Stacie Young, a director for the Community Investment Corporation, a nonprofit mortgage lender.
Studies show that public housing residents integrated into mixed-income communities live in better housing in safer neighborhoods, and are under less stress than before they moved. Still, the Urban Institute in Washington D.C., in its extensive research on CHA’s Plan for Transformation, found some residents miss the sense of community they experienced in traditional public housing.
“A strong sense of community was completely destroyed” in mixed-income housing says Paul Fischer, a longtime Chicago housing expert and former housing advisor for Presidents Carter and Clinton.
Moving from Parkside
The initial buzz surrounding Parkside and Cabrini development convinced Cordell Jackson, a 25-year-old Ford Motor assembly line worker to move east from his West Side neighborhood. Parkside was a new building in a transforming neighborhood.
In the two years he’s lived at Parkside, Jackson says he’s had no quarrels with Holsten management. He accepts the list of 30 regulations, including no gathering in the hallway, barbequing or sitting in lawn chairs outside the complex. But he’s tired of Parkside.
What he sees, in his opinion, is a development destined to revert into another Cabrini-Green. He hears residents complaining at the office and running out of the place ranting. He sometimes can’t sleep because residents who don’t work are blasting music.
“It’s the projects man, the projects all over again,” Jackson said. “Drug addicts and dealers are still here – it’s a little controlled, more concealed.”
He’s moving out June 16 into a non-mixed-income apartment on the West Side.
“Market rate owners are gonna leave eventually,” he said.
Buying Mixed-Income Units
Hundreds of investors and young professionals flocked to the near North Side a decade ago to buy units in mixed-income developments. This was, after all, before the housing crisis. Cabrini-Green was always in a great location; one mile from downtown, bordering Old Town and near the Gold Coast, Lincoln Park and Lakeview. Ryan Flynn owns a mixed-income apartment in Old Town Village West, a development one block west of Parkside. He also owns cabrini-green.com, a blog that documents the transformation of Cabrini.
Now in Brooklyn for work, Flynn continues to update the website and keeps tabs on his old neighborhood. In a phone interview, he described an annual summer block party when he still lived at Old Town. Fed with the tastes of Hickory’s, a local barbeque restaurant, kids bounced around in a rented blow up castle and folks from the development crooned during karaoke.
“Whites, Indians, Asians, blacks – everyone was dancing and having a good time,” Flynn said.
But his unit at Old Town is made up of town homes with more space for residents to spread out. It’s not like the mid-rise Parkside units.
“I’m coming from a market-rate perspective, Flynn said. “If they are going to buy a building they are looking for seclusion and security.”
Records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show two CHA evictions at Parkside since the development opened. Five other CHA residents were evicted from the other mixed-income developments near Cabrini. CHA’s policy is to work with Holsten management to try and iron out an issue before evicting, according to the Holsten social service counselor.
Deborah Hope was nearly evicted from Parkside. Last summer on Cambridge Street a few blocks from her home, Chicago police arrested Hope’s 25-year-old son Andrew Kimbrough for drug related activity. When police asked where he lived, Kimbrough gave his mother’s address. The fact that Kimbrough gave his mother’s address, and that he was arrested, are both grounds for eviction, as stated in Hope’s lease.
CHA residents can neither allow family to move in or host “bad company” guests. After her son’s arrest, Holsten Management Corporation slipped Hope a note.
“Parkside bullets come under the door in the form of a letter,” she said.
Hope went to the Cook County Circuit Court October 2010 for a hearing. She was willing to accept defeat and relocation to a traditional public housing apartment, but her lawyer convinced her to go to trial. The two sides settled in the courthouse hallway, striking a deal that puts Hope on probation and bars her son from the property for one year.
A 2002 landmark Supreme Court decision made it possible for housing authorities to evict residents for crimes visitors commit, regardless of whether the public housing resident had invited the visitor or was aware the alleged crime occurred.
CHA leases drafted prior to the Supreme Court decision allowed for what is known as an “innocent tenant defense.” If residents could prove they did not know about a guest’s criminal act, they wouldn’t get evicted said John Bauters, a housing lawyer with Cabrini-Green Legal Aid, a nonprofit that provides attorneys for low-income Chicagoans.
But CHA has proposed to change its eviction policy to follow the textbook definition of the Supreme Court decision, paving the way for more evictions. CHA will make a final decision July 1.
Market-rate owners do not face the same set of rules and regulations at Parkside as CHA residents.