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Housing An Option For Repurposing Closed CPS Schools?

Some Chicago Public Schools, which fell victim to school closures, are being recommended for re-purposing for low income housing; but arguments suggest this plan won’t benefit these communities.

In May 2013, the Chicago Board of Education voted to close 50 underdeveloped public schools across 21 city wards, which led to the forming of Advisory Committee for School Repurposing and Community Development.

Unfortunately many of these buildings have not reopened for immediate use, which the surrounding communities could benefit from, according to WBEZ’s Chicago data.

Community activists and organizers want to see the  closed schools used to benefit and build up their communities where there are so many abandoned properties, but plans for housing may not accomplish this goal.

When asked what the closed school buildings should be used for, Elce Redmond, a community organizer with the South Austin Coalition Community, said multi-level centers where learning and other social services can happen to benefit underserved communities should be created.

“What’s important is that these schools are used for enhancing the communities they’re in,” Redmond said.

Recommendations for the reuse of the schools for housing purposes were brought to the advisory committee from the City’s Five-Year Housing Plan and the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan.

Valerie Leonard, a self-employed community development consultant in the North Lawndale community, said she believes housing is an option for these closed schools.

However, Dwayne Truss, assistant director of Raise Your Hand, disagrees with this idea.

When asked if schools would benefit communities if used for housing, Truss responded by saying schools were only designed to be one thing, and older school buildings like Emmet would take more money to develop into housing than it would to stay a facility intended for education.

“Schools and parks are what attract people to a community, it’s what causes people to navigate towards neighborhoods and purchase property,” Truss said.

“I don’t think housing is the key for those school buildings, we’ve got enough abandoned houses in Chicago neighborhoods that could be used for homeless,” Redmond added.

Crain’s Chicago Business reported that Chicago had 33,902 vacant homes mid-2010 and was up 22 percent by the end of 2010, according to DePaul University’s Institute for Housing Studies report.

The Micro-Market Recovery Program was created to revitalize property values in parts of South Side and West Side communities where high foreclosure rates are an issue.

Leonard, Redmond and Truss all said they’ve seen little of the millions donated to the city by the John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation used in their communities.

Earlier this year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and civic leaders announced, in a press release, the creation of a new $26 million loan pool to rehab homes.

According to the release, Emanuel said this new loan pool targets the redevelopment of one to four unit buildings, which represent nearly 50 percent of all rental units in Chicago.

“I believe he’s deliberately starving us of our resources so that people will leave,” Leonard said.

The solution to this problem starts with real ideas, less hearings that are just for show and a rise up from these dying communities, Redmond said.

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