Watch CBS News

From The Rubble Of Cabrini-Green, A New Vision Of Mixed-Income Housing Became A Reality

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The first high-rise to be demolished in the Cabrini-Green public housing development came down over two decades ago, the last in 2011.

The plan to replace the development was viewed as quite radical at the time. The new development called for mixed-income housing, with some former Cabrini-Green residents living in subsidized residences right next door to affluent white neighbors who paid up to $500,000 for the exact same home.

Two decades later, CBS 2's Suzanne Le Mignot gets insight into how that plan took shape. She spoke to the developer and the very first person, to move from Cabrini-Green into one of the new buildings that replaced the projects.

In 2001, Betty Flake was a single parent with three children, in elementary school and Cabrini-Green was their home. They all called Cabrini-Green home.

"I raised my children pretty much there," Flake recalled. "They all finished school successfully. They all went to college and my son became a professional basketball player overseas."

Flake lived in the first building torn down in Cabrini-Green. It was plagued by violence, drugs and gangs. She says she was the first Cabrini-Green resident to move into North Town Village 21 years ago.

"I made this my home. I had more options here than I had at Cabrini," Flake said.

North Town Village has 261 units. It sits on seven acres, where Cabrini-Green once towered.

Project co-developer Peter Holsten had the first-of-its-kind vision for North Town Village and the second phase of development replacing Cabrini-Green, Parkside of Old Town.

"We wanted to have this look like a Chicago neighborhood," Holsten said.

North Town Village was a mix of rental and for sale properties with three income groups: those buying and renting their homes at market rate, former public housing residents from Cabrini Green, and those qualifying for affordable housing.

"It was interesting in the beginning, having people come together in the same neighborhood from quite different backgrounds," Holsten said. "Some of them, decided it wasn't for them. Others, decided to make the best of it and 20 years later, we still have a handful of folks that were here, over the 20 year period."

Flake says she, along other Cabrini-Green residents, who were part of community groups, worked directly with Holsten, giving him input.

"Everybody who took these places, it wasn't about the beauty, it was about the change," she said. "They were ready for it."

To move into the new developments, applicants from Cabrini Green had to follow really strict rules and for some, those rules were life changing.

There could be no drug use. Applicants had to pass drug tests and you could not have a criminal record, which was the same for all other rental residents.

"There had been challenges with people, probably wanting to go against the rules, because they weren't used to rules, but for the better part, most of us had adapted to the rules," Flake said

"The ones that didn't fit this project, they didn't just throw the people out, they made sure they got their Section 8 back, so they could move on. They did not just put the tenants out."

The CHA says 1,770 families were living in Cabrini Green in October of 1999. About 500 families qualified to move into the new developments.

In 2022, there are still two parcels of land remaining in Parkside of Old Town, right across from the Jenner Campus of the Ogden International School of Chicago.

"This right here, will be our last phase of 91 units, bringing the total to just under 800 units that we were to be build here," Holsten said.

Holsten's firm is developing Parkside of Old Town in partnership with the tenant organization, Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Council, which has a 40 percent share in the development.

"We're just going to keep on doing this. This is my life's work, and we're going to keep doing it."

With many of the buildings now more than 20 years old, Holsten has received funding from the city to rehab all 116 rental units in North Town Village.

New flooring, bathrooms and kitchens are going into each unit. Holsten says residents will be relocated temporarily, while the rehab work is done.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.