The Chicago Housing Authority board voted Tuesday to move forward with plans to lease part of the site of the former Ickes Homes public housing complex to the Chicago Board of Education for a proposed $120 million high school that would serve teens in Chinatown, Bridgeport and the South Loop.
The approval came over objections from community activists who said the land should be used for more public housing units.
CHA Director of Development Ann McKenzie said the proposed neighborhood school site is the southernmost half of the block that was planned as the last phase of the new Southbridge development, a mix of affordable and public housing units. at market price. CHA Executive Director Tracey Scott said details are still being worked out, but the parcel could accommodate both a home and a school.
“We are going to increase the housing density on part of that parcel so that we can still do what we need to do with the homes on the parcel and ultimately still retrofit a school,” Scott said. “We don’t have a final design for what that school would look like, but this proposal and the resolution before you is based on that concept, that we can still locate our housing on the Ickes site.”
The CHA board-approved resolution directs Scott to apply to the federal government to lease the land and acquire two new sites. McKenzie noted that Chicago Public Schools is still in the “concept phase” of the proposed Near South Side High School, but if the school is built, it would serve nearby CHA families and provide a gathering space for residents.
CPS Executive Director Pedro Martinez promised greater community involvement when he withdrew the controversial school proposal ahead of last month’s Board of Education budget vote. Since then, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has appointed three new members of the Board of Education.
One outgoing member, Dwayne Truss, suspects he was replaced because he called for more resident involvement in high school planning and opposed “a bait and switch in terms of CHA land or other land that we don’t own.” .
The 99-year lease to the Board of Education would cover a 1.7-acre area, bounded by 24th Street on the north, 25th Street on the south, Dearborn Street on the west, and State Street on the east. In exchange, CPS would purchase and provide CHA with two nearby parcels on Wabash Avenue, which have been deemed “pretty expensive.”
The broker who drives the list of the two properties — totaling about 2 acres — said he answers about four inquiries a week, but hasn’t been approached by board or city representatives.
Scott said he anticipates the Wabash properties may be used for market-rate homeownership.
Outside CHA headquarters Monday morning, community activists urged the city to live up to its obligation to provide the replacement housing promised when the Ickes complex was demolished more than a decade ago. Ickes once had 740 units.
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The Southbridge development is expected to feature 877 units, including 244 for CHA families.
“When it comes to Chinatown, we think they should have everything they need in their community. We believe that. But in our community we know we need housing,” said Roderick Wilson, executive director of the Lugenia Burns Hope Center.
Angela Lin, co-founder of People Matter, which does racial justice work, said her group surveyed 100 community members from Chinatown, Pilsen and Bridgeport after last month’s Board of Education meeting. Lin said that most of the participants were not aware of the high school proposal.
“Most of the people we surveyed said they didn’t want a high school on public housing land because housing should be for people who need housing,” Lin said. “So if many of the community members who are here don’t support this proposal, then I think the city should reevaluate their decisions and listen to what community members want.”
The school would be paid for with $50 million in state funds that was reallocated multiple times, and $70 million previously announced for a Near West Side high school that was never built.
Critics say CPS should focus on improving high schools in the area, like Dunbar Vocational Career Academy in the neighborhood of South Commons and Wendell Phillips Academy High School in Bronzeville. Years ago, the district proposed turning the National Teachers Academy elementary school in the South Loop into a middle school, but CPS abandoned the plan after activists launched a court battle.