July 7, 2008

Chicago's New Communities Teach A Lesson

DC Roundly Ignores It.

You gonna fix that?*

The Chicago Tribune had a chilling story today. Chicago was the first to enact a bold plan ten years ago to demolish some of the city's decrepit affordable housing complexes, and build newer developments that would be privately owned but would carry a stipulation that 1/3rd the housing had to be available for low-income residents. The catalyst for this plan (that would become the New Communities model nationally) was supposed to revamp some of the geographic landscape that, otherwise, would have remained economically poor and infrastructurally decayed. In theory, this is exactly the kind of plan young people like me would get excited about. It takes responsible action to protect low-income residents while still increasing capacity so the city can keep growing without sprawl.

DC's initiative is based off of the work done in Chicago, so when M. Fenty first announced his intentions, I was surprised to find that so many people were upset about the New Communities Initiative. Until I started looking into it. The story today could prove to be DC's oracle: New Communities in Chicago might not be completed until 2025 (started in 2000), will cost the city way more than was anticipated, and will not actually help many of the low-income residents they were spending money to protect. The whole article deserves a read, but I'll quote one of the many telling parts here:

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.

Especially after the Northwest One debacle (that we'll be talking about later this week), DC appears ready to relive Chicago's mistakes.

*photo courtesy of ifmuth.

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