Thousands of Low-Income Units on Prime Real Estate Remain Vacant

An NBC Chicago / Unit 5 / Chicago Reporter Investigation

While needy families wait, thousands of Chicago Housing Authority units remain unoccupied, data shows.

Four years’ worth of property inventory data and two years of audited financial reports were analyzed by The Chicago Reporter. The investigation found that thousands of CHA units remained empty while the agency continued to collect federal money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"There are lots of vacancies. In fact there are whole buildings that are vacant and boarded up," said Cynthia Scott, who has lived at the Julia C. Lathrop Homes, a public housing development on the city's north side, for 22 years.

Lathrop Homes sits on the edge of the Chicago River on some of the city’s most desirable real estate, and housing critics claim the CHA is keeping low income families out of these unoccupied homes while they determine how to develop the property in these trendy, potentially lucrative neighborhoods.

"Roughly 40,000 families are on the current waiting list,” said Angela Caputo, who led The Chicago Reporter’s investigation. "There are families that are struggling to find a place to live and the resources are there but they are sitting on those resources and people are not getting housing that the federal government is sending money to Chicago to create."

Twelve years ago, the CHA revamped their strategy on public housing by tearing down existing high rise buildings and moving tenants into mixed income communities.

The Reporter’s analysis of data found that nearly one in five of the CHA’s 21,204 units are unoccupied. Apartments with some of the highest rates of vacancies include Lathrop and the Cabrini Row Houses.

“Lathrop homes is really this beautiful, expansive community that’s very desirable. And the same with Cabrini-Green. which is second for the number of vacant units. The real estate market has really been booming in that area," said Caputo.

A CHA spokeswoman denies they're intentionally keeping low-income people from the properties.

"We have not made any determination on what we are going to do with respect to Lathrop homes. HUD has given us specific reasons as to why we can take units offline and we have done so. Some quite frankly are uninhabitable and we are working on them to make sure they are habitable," said the CHA's Wendy Parks.

CHA officials said they will work with a Lathrop master developed on three potentially scenarios for the development of Lathrop homes. They also say residents’ concerns will be take into consideration in developing the property in the future.

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