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Illinois Could Soon Face Housing Crisis, So Why Are So Many CHA Homes Sitting Vacant?

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Illinois could face a housing crisis when the moratorium on evictions is lifted this month.

But as CBS 2's Jim Williams reported Monday, thousands of Chicago public housing homes are off limits - even though they're vacant.

In Logan Square, where affordable housing is coveted and increasingly rare, a single-family house sits vacant. Attorney Cherie Travis is bewildered as to why.

"That made no sense to me," Travis said. "There's government-owned property that the taxpayers own that's not being used."

The home is indeed owned by the Chicago Housing Authority - the government agency charged with providing homes for low income Chicagoans.

"It looks like it's a really cute house," Travis said.

And CHA records said that cute house has been unoccupied for three years.

Travis is herself a landlord.

"Maybe a month goes in by between tenants. I mean, maybe I've got to do some repairs in between - maybe, you know, 30, 60 days," she said. "But three years?"

Travis filed a Freedom of Information Act request and learned the Logan Square home is on a long list of vacant properties owned by the CHA - single family houses, two- and three-flats, and big apartment buildings.

Altogether, there are roughly 2,000 vacant CHA properties.

This is in a city with a large homeless population.

"I was in a domestic violence relationship which caused me to become homeless," said Bonnie Contreras.

Contreras, of the group Chicago Union of the Homeless, told us she's been on a CHA waitlist for a home for years.

"I would love it. I would love it right now," Contreras said, "because I'm tired of being homeless."

We asked for an interview with CHA officials. Instead, CHA spokesman Matthew Aguilar emailed a statement.

The statement said the CHA has 16,000 units - some of which are "vacant for painting and minor repairs;" others for more extensive work. Housing for the homeless is a priority, he wrote.

Aguilar in particular addressed two developments with multiple vacant apartments – the Lathrop Homes in the area of Damen and Clybourn avenues and Diversey Parkway which have been undergoing redevelopment for years, and the Cabrini Rowhouses – the last remaining part of the Cabrini Green development, located between Oak Street on the north, Chicago Avenue on the south, Hudson Avenue on the east, and Larrabee Street on the west – but vacant and fenced off everywhere but a small section along Cambridge Avenue and adjacent east-west stubs.

Aguilar wrote that the CHA has issued a request for proposals to engage developers for 438 units at the Cabrini Rowhomes, and plans to complete a review of the proposals this year.

Meanwhile the CHA is still building upon the first redevelopment phase at Lathrop, where 414 mixed-income units have already been constructed and leased. A real estate financing closing for the next phase of development at Lathrop is expected to happen this year, Aguilar wrote.

The planning process there for subsequent phases and about 500 mixed-income units continues, Aguilar wrote.

"Like the redevelopment of other former CHA public housing sites, CHA has worked with community Working Groups, the City of Chicago, the Department of Planning and Development, the Department of Housing, resident leadership and other community stakeholders, to determine the plans that best meet the needs of both communities," he wrote.

We asked the CHA if they would show us any work being done at the vacant units. They did not respond.

We also asked how many of the vacant homes have been offered to tenants in the last two years. Again, the CHA did not answer.

And it's not just vacant housing in the CHA's portfolio. A commercial building in the Washington Park community is also empty.

"I was disappointed, to say the least," said Rynell Morgan.

Morgan, a coach with the Youth Football Wolfpack, wanted to create a community center in the Washington Park building.

Though the building is in poor shape, he and the coaches offered to buy it. But they insist they never heard back from the CHA.

"We could have touched many, many more lives, you know?" Morgan said. "We could offer tutoring; an after school program. We can reach out to the seniors and get to seniors in the daytime."

Travis was working for the coaches, free of charge, and is left with one question about the CHA's vacant property.

"I just can't understand how the people of the CHA are allowing this to happen," Travis said. "I can't understand how the city is OK with this."


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