CHA Acquires Title to New Library Site

On March 15, CHA registered its Special Warranty Deed for the new library site at Pratt & Western with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds. This deed transfers ownership of the property to CHA.

Maybe now a sign can be erected on the site noting that this vacant lot is going to become home to our new library-senior housing complex.

“Affordable Housing & Community Design”

I attended this lecture yesterday and it was well worth attending. Jeff Bone of Landon Bone Baker Architects presented a wonderfully informative slide show about his firm’s approaches to affordable housing. It got me to thinking about how West Ridge residents might approach repurposing our current library and developing affordable housing in our neighborhood.

His firm has repurposed existing buildings to house homeless youth, low-income families with at least one family member suffering from a physical disability, and rehabbed SROs. Working with Casa Norte, for example, Bone’s firm created housing for 16 homeless young men, including a communal kitchen where they prepared and shared their meals.

In Roseland, his firm built several kinds of senior housing, including apartments for independent living and a building for assisted living as well as grandfamily housing for grandparents raising children as well as townhouses for single mothers.  It has also built new 3-bedroom homes.

The firm is also building developments of tiny houses (325 sq. ft.), currently a 12-house development centered around individual gardens, perfect for single adults or empty-nesters. Bone explained that, while a standard new house runs about $350,000 to build, a tiny house costs in the neighborhood of $80,000.

The firm has developed commercial spaces as well, and has worked with private developers as well as CHA.

West Ridge residents should hear what he has to say about developing / repurposing existing building, affordable housing, and building community–all with a green thumbprint. Some developments also include training kitchens so residents can work in the food service industry, and other vocational training.

Many thanks to Derrick Everett of West Ridge for bringing this talk to my attention. Now it needs a wider audience.


“Affordable Housing & Community Design” Discussion in Skokie Tomorrow

I learn so much from readers and neighbors who are seeking ways to improve our community. Reader Derrick Everett advises that “there’s a talk taking place on Sunday [March 26] at the Ethical Humanist Society in Skokie. And while this is not 50th Ward-specific, I think it’s relevant because it’s about affordable housing and community design, which are two subjects that were hot topics at this evening’s meeting.”

Thanks for sharing, Derrick!

Sustaining Community: Affordable Housing and Community Design in Chicago
Sunday, March 26, 10:30 a.m. – Noon

“Jeff Bone, a principal at Landon Bone Baker Architects, will discuss the work of his firm which specializes in community-based, affordable, and environmentally responsible housing and design in Chicago and the region. For almost 30 years, the firm has successfully balanced context, technology, and economy in its work while bringing a strong sense of ownership to the residents of a wide variety of new and rehabbed affordable, subsidized, and supportive housing developments.

From large-scale urban design and planning initiatives to small non-profit projects integrated into existing neighborhoods, Chicago’s diverse housing needs require unique design solutions both big and small for people in communities across the city.”

Ethical Humanist Society
7574 Lincoln Avenue (corner of Lincoln and Howard)
Skokie, IL


New Library Site Needs a Sign

The site of the new library was announced in October 2016. To date, there’s no sign on the rubble-filled vacant lot that it will soon become our new library / senior housing complex. Such a sign is badly needed, as you can see below. Please write or call the alderman and ask her to make this a priority.

Email the alderman at, or call her at 773/262-1050.

Community Meeting with Designers and CHA

When my mother was surprised, which wasn’t often, she’d stop in her tracks and say, “Will wonders never cease!” That’s how I feel today.

Last night’s community meeting was a wonder. Residents spoke, and the alderman seemed to actually enjoy interacting with her constituents. She, building architect Doug Smith, and CHA boss Eugene Jones didn’t offer much in the way of solid information, but they were personable and made it clear they heard what was being said.

I will say that I do not believe the claim that the drawings released over the weekend were just “concepts.” I agree with residents who feel the design selected for West Ridge is too modern for our neighborhood.

There was overwhelming support for senior housing, and several people noted that 30 units aren’t enough. Jones said he’s looking to spend money in view of the cutbacks coming from Washington, but it should be noted that CHA has between $440-500M in the bank, depending on your source. Thus concerns that this project has to proceed quickly lest the money disappear seem questionable.

He also said he’s looking for areas to develop. I suggest he look at the one-half block long vacant lot at Morse and Western, just down the street. It would be perfect for senior or multigenerational affordable housing.

I should also note that a polite young man, 38 years old and confined to a wheelchair, was disappointed that there would be no place in the new building for him. He is unable, he said, to find affordable housing. What solutions can the community offer him?

No decision has been made on whether seniors in the building can have pets. Potential residents should begin sending Mr. Jones some of the hundreds of studies that show conclusively that having pets helps people age better.

Mr. Jones also said that he’s opening a list of potential residents in January 2018. When asked why he couldn’t just move the names of those West Ridge seniors already on CHA waiting lists to a new list, he said they weren’t “certified,” whatever that means (I didn’t understand the explanation). Residents pointed out that, for one senior building, more than 1,000 people applied (remember, there are 30 units). It seems to me that those already on the CHA list should not have to apply again, so that’s something that requires clarification.

I’ve been on a CHA wait list myself for several years; with two dogs and a cat, I don’t expect to find a place in the new building. But I wonder if the reason so many languish for so long on CHA wait lists is because of some administrative snafu like not being “certified” and not knowing it. And I do wonder how much political influence will be wielded in the selection of tenants. If you’ve waited patiently on the list for several years, you should be able to move ahead of new applicants. You shouldn’t die waiting.

Parking took up a lot of time. Let’s face it: it is now, has been, and will continue to be a problem. There’s never enough of it, and building it uses precious land that could be used for housing. There are several vacant stores, lots, and buildings in the area, so perhaps a little creativity on the part of residents working with the alderman, the city, and nearby property owners will result in a solution.

The lack of shopping and good transit (the 49B bus is slow and sometimes on weekends runs once an hour because drivers just don’t show up) will be problems for residents of the building. Personally, I’m opposed to any commercial space in the new building. I think the nearby vacancies should be filled first. The alderman might consider asking for volunteers to serve on committees for parking, commercial development, etc. Let the groups choose their own leaders and work on solutions to the most pressing problems, working with the alderman, CHA, and the architect. Resident involvement is key to making this project work.

Finally–but importantly–it appears we need to be very vocal about our determination to keep the old library available as a public building for community use. I’d prefer to see a senior center there to serve as an anchor for the south end of the neighborhood, and I am concerned that all the attention paid to the new library, and the understandable desire to serve the seniors who’ll be living upstairs, will make people forget that other seniors need services, too.

I do want to say that, as she starts her seventh year in office, I have finally witnessed the alderman comfortably interacting with residents. It was good to see.


What Does “Community Input” Mean in Chicago?

So much for community input. Late on Saturday the Mayor released drawings of the new library-senior housing building to be constructed at Pratt & Western. The alderman’s community input meeting is scheduled for tonight at 6:30 p.m. at Warren Park.

The alderman carefully says that what the community will give is “feedback” on the “current design.”  The lack of transparency in decision-making in Chicago, especially in the 50th Ward, has never been more obvious than in the matter of the new Northtown Library. Don’t expect any more transparency when we get to the matter of repurposing the old library, either.

We are stuck with a concept nobody asked for, a design competition with no conversations between the designer and the ultimate users, and a soon-to-be vacant public building whose next use will be or has been decided behind closed doors. Whatever the residents of West Ridge want is not as important as the need for political razzle-dazzle set to coincide with the 2019 elections.

The alderman’s role in all this is far from clear. Was she an active player? Did she speak for the neighborhood when the Mayor decided his bold concept overrode neighborhood needs? Or was she as surprised as everybody else to learn of his plans? As late as December 2015 the alderman had proposed a zoning change for the site approving it for automotive use. [Ord 02015-8470, introduced December 9, 2015; referred to City Council Zonong Committee; still pending.] How much in the loop was she if a mere ten months later the site was designated as the site of the new library? It’s also worth asking whether the City or one of its agencies has acquired the property yet.

Who asked for senior housing? Was the library-cohousing idea a concept in search of a site? Did our need for a new library mesh with the mayor’s need to create excitement to deflect attention from an increasingly dysfunctional and violent city? Was the rush to complete the building tied to the 2019 municipal elections, whose candidates will include both the alderman and the mayor?

Why didn’t anyone, including the alderman, discuss this concept with residents before the design competition?

I decided to look at the public record and create a timeline of what happened when. The information below is taken from public statements, press releases, news reports, and the alderman’s newsletter.

February 2015             LEARN (Library Enhancement and Renewal Network) Coalition formed by concerned individuals and community groups  seeking to bring a new library to West Ridge

March – Dec 2015      LEARN members begin to educate public on need for a new
library, create a Web site and Facebook page; meet with alderman

June – Aug 2016         LEARN members gather 2,500 signatures on petition in support of a new library

September 2016          LEARN leadership meets with alderman and presents petition

October 21, 2016        Mayor announces library-senior housing building to be constructed at Pratt & Western Avenues

October 21, 2016        Alderman reiterates announcement in email to residents (email includes picture)

October 28, 2016        Alderman reiterates Mayor’s announcement (newsletter includes picture)

November 4, 2016      Alderman announces community meting on November 14

November 11, 2016    Alderman reminds community of November 14 meeting

November 14, 2016    Alderman emails community meeting reminder; holds well-attended meeting; does not mention the work of LEARN Coalition. Says this is the first of “numerous community meetings” she plans to hold about library; later refers to       “…many, many meetings” to come; states “this is not the last meeting.” Meeting is attended by CHA and CPL officials, who offer handout demonstrating what library and housing units “could” look like. No specifics on either; alderman and both officials repeatedly state that “everything is on the table” and “we’ll figure it out.” LEARN Coalition Chair speaks at meeting and stresses need for “consistent communication,” asks that all parts of the community be involved in decision-making, and volunteers LEARN to help coordinate outreach efforts

November 18, 2016      Alderman reports on November 14 community meeting; does not mention LEARN Coalition (newsletter includes two pictures).

December 30, 2016      Alderman recaps 2016; mentions new library (newsletter includes picture)

January 20, 2017          Alderman announces Jan. 30 community input meeting

January 27, 2017          Alderman announces postponement of Jan. 30 meeting

February 27 , 2017        LEARN leaders meet with alderman, advise of LEARN survey, reiterate willingness to help gather community input

March 2, 2017                LEARN finalizes online community input survey, which is then released via email; survey availability announced on social media Web sites, blogs, and other networks

March 3, 2017                Alderman announces library is “proceeding on schedule” and that she “…will hold another public meeting to begin gathering community input, so we can all work together….”

March 10, 2017              Alderman announces March 20 meeting

March 17, 2017              Alderman reminds community of March 20 meeting; provides link to community input survey she developed with her heretofore unknown community “advisory board” but does not announce names of the advisory board’s members; mentions LEARN survey but does not provide link to it

March 17, 2017           Mayor calls various members of the press to talk about the exciting new library-housing designs he is about to release

March 18, 2017            Less than 24 hours after Alderman releases her community input survey, Mayor releases designs for new library-senior housing buildings to press

March 19, 2017            Chicago Tribune publishes drawings of new library designs and story by Blair Kamin, who notes that “…it’s difficult to judge at this stage whether the plans rise to the most important standard for projects of this type. Meeting human needs.” He later adds “What’s troubling is that the rapid-fire [design] competition did not allow for extensive community input. That’s still to come.”

March 20, 2017             Alderman sends email reminding community of meeting. Asks residents to complete library survey that she and her advisory council developed.

March 20, 2017             Meeting to provide community input on Northtown Library at Warren Park at 6:30 p.m.

From November 19, 2016, through March 19, 2017, the alderman did not hold any community meetings to discuss what  residents need and/or want in the new library, did not discuss forming nor ask the community at large for volunteers for her library “advisory board,” did not create any survey tool, and did not accept the LEARN Coalition’s offers of help with community outreach in this matter.  The alderman does not appear to have done anything to encourage the Mayor to step back and talk with residents before this project moved forward. She CHOSE not to speak to residents for four months, during which time she could have funneled our dreams as well as our concerns to the Mayor and the design team.

At no time during this four-month period did the alderman ever call a meeting with West Ridge senior citizens to discuss the new senior housing or to seek input, nor did she contact the City of Chicago’s Aging in Place Program that helps older adults age well within their communities. There was thus no input from older adults on housing supposedly designed with them in mind.

Are we really going to discuss these things NOW, after the building has been designed and the concept locked in place?

So much for community input.





How Can Residents Help Develop Western Avenue?

When the Pratt-Western site for the new library was announced, the alderman said that she “hoped” it would spur development on Western Avenue. I think West Ridge residents should take the initiative and begin working together to bring locally-owned small businesses to the area. The library will attract lots of attention, and neighbors should start discussing how to capitalize on that attention without sacrificing the wonderful neighborhood feel that the street currently has. Unlike Devon, which has become so tourist-oriented that it no longer appeals to residents seeking a night out or a place to take the family, some stretches of Western have developed a homey, small-town main street appeal–walkable, friendly, and portraying the kind of family-oriented neighborhood that makes West Ridge such a great place to live.

We might first erect a sign at Pratt noting that the rubble-filled location is the future site of the Northtown Library.

Walk or drive down Western from Devon to Estes (four blocks north and four blocks south of the library location) and you find lots of automotive-related businesses, including a hand car wash and a couple of auto body shops. Almost every block holds at least one business-related parking lot, including two sites for Taxi Town. These aren’t the most attractive parts of the street, but could be improved with fencing and murals, for example.

As you approach Lunt, you find an area that is home to many small businesses. Everything you could want is here: optical shops, a florist, a couple of beauty shops, our local True Value hardware store, a music school and a preschool.  If you’re waiting for the kids, drop in at the antique store or take the dog to the pet spa.

Several restaurants (Chinese, Mexican, American diner-style, McDonald’s, KFC, with Rub BBQ currently being remodeled and renamed) as well as Lickity Split and Bina’s Café around the corner on Lunt provide great choices for lunch or dinner.  Two convenience stores (H&M Foods and A&M Convenience) carry snack foods.

Each of the three banks in the area (Devon, Chase, Byline) has an ATM drive-through, and there’s gas station across from the library site. There’s a mosque and a storefront church.

Unfortunately, the area also includes four vacant storefronts, a half-block long vacant lot, and a couple of vacant buildings. This is where community input is needed. How should that vacant half-block be used? Could we entice a developer (CHA?) to create a mix of affordable and market-rate housing? What kinds of businesses do nearby residents want and need? Clothing shops? Toy shops? A bookstore? How can vacant buildings and storefronts contribute to the revitalization of the area?

Improving Western Avenue is a big part of the library project. Let’s get to work.

Looking Back, Thinking Ahead

Be sure to complete the LEARN Coalition’s online survey of residents’ wishes for the new library g before Monday’s community meeting with  CHA and CPL officials and the alderman to discuss the new library-senior housing building.  The meeting is Monday, March 30, at 6:30 p.m. at the Warren Park Field House.

Monday’s meeting to discuss the new library-senior housing building to be built at Pratt and Western should be the first of a series of meetings exploring what the residents of West Ridge want and need in our new library. On Monday we’ll be discussing the results of the LEARN Coalition’s resident survey as well as opinions and suggestions from the audience.

But I’ve been thinking we should also take a step back, review how we got to this point, and where we go from here. There’s a lot more at stake than a library.

Many individuals and groups have worked for years to make this library a reality. Last summer dedicated volunteers from the LEARN Coalition worked overtime to gather more than 2,000 signatures on a petition for a new library—proof that West Ridge residents were determined to succeed in this endeavor.

The sudden announcement last October that the Mayor had agreed to present the community not only with a new library but also with a small number of apartments for seniors on the floors above was completely unexpected. This concept has had some success in Europe for nearly ten years, and has been introduced to other American cities. In New York, for example, the library was combined with affordable housing. . Cornelius, Oregon, funded its project, which includes a library, community space, and senior apartments, with federal block grants and lottery funds. Willowbrook, in Los Angeles County, California, combined a library, senior housing, and an employment center; 22 of the 100 apartments have been set aside for tenants with medical needs because of a new hospital a block away.

The mayor’s idea dazzled. But did it solve one problem only to create a few others? Let’s review a few things that may not have received enough attention.


First, we cannot underestimate the damage resulting from removing the last remaining cultural asset from the struggling south end of the ward, home to the less affluent, less powerful, new immigrants, refugees, and many families and retirees of modest means. There are relatively few private homes and condos compared to the north end, and the residential market is of increasingly dubious stability. The lack of  investment, coupled with the staggering economic and housing deterioration resulting from the alderman’s neglect of the area, is rapidly creating slum-like conditions in certain pockets of the south side of the 50th. Gangbangers are moving in, because it’s easy for them to exploit the conditions created by absentee landlords and residents without work. Left unaddressed, this social disorder will spread to the ward’s more affluent areas. Even if the current south end is chopped from the 50th in the 2021 ward remap, its problems will not go away.


Second, West Ridge desperately needs a cultural center. Let’s consider whether a cultural center or senior housing is the better fit with the library building.

The 50th is the only ward in the City without any movie theater, performance space, art gallery, or music venue. There is no public art. No pop-up galleries. We are losing our common architectural heritage to property owners who neither understand nor appreciate it. Beautiful terra cotta building facades are defaced by mailboxes, signage, and other insults. There are no murals representing the vibrancy of our neighborhood. Nor is there any official recognition, encouragement, or support of the many creative individuals who call West Ridge home. Other neighborhoods celebrate their musicians, dncers, writers, actors, sculptors, painters, and performance artists. So should we.

The alderman has announced she will give $10,000 of the ward’s $1,32M menu money toward the City’s 2017 Year of Public Art program.  Maybe her interest in arts and culture will continue, and she will see the value of having a performing and cultural arts center as part of what is sure to be the neighborhood showpiece.

We already know the old library will never be repurposed as a cultural center because there is no parking for patrons. That was the reason given for moving the library. So what do we do with the old library building?

Third, affordable housing for families and seniors would be a solid investment in the south end of the ward.  Turning the existing library into a senior center with several floors of housing above would help anchor the south end of the ward. More importantly, it would provide senior residents with easier access to grocery shopping and options for bus transportation, two things lacking at Pratt and Western. There’s more than enough room in the existing layout for a fitness center, computer room, communal kitchen and dining area,  game rooms, discussion centers, classrooms, and an auditorium for visiting performers and lecturers. Several floors of housing above and it would provide a safe space and anchor for the south end of the ward. There’s even a vacant lot on the north that could be taken by eminent domain and ued for parking, there’s an employee lot behind the building, and the Republic Bank parking lot is just a block away.

The building should allow residents to have pets. Most CHA buildings don’t, but this ignores dozens of studies that show that living with and taking care of pets helps to foster independence, helps pet-owners to connect with others, and relieves the loneliness of aging. The close bond people feel with their pets is especially important as we age. Pet ownership also promotes fitness—somebody has to walk that dog!

Public housing for older adults is stuck in a time warp. There are many options today for senior living, if only our political leaders would pay attention. Some older adults are lonely in or unable to manage large houses because their kids have moved away, spouses have died, and the financials and maintenance burdens are no longer tenable. Some might benefit from home-sharing arrangements that match them with compatible roommates, sometimes contemporaries, sometimes younger people, sometimes a mix, restoring vibrancy to a home with a family of one’s choosing. Multigenerational  living arrangements, for example, Nathalie Salmon House in Rogers Park, provide a safe, supportive environment for all ages.

Some senor citizens lack awareness of programs that provide free or low-cost repairs to their properties. These programs do exist, and help seniors maintain their properties.

Older adults today live active, fulfilling lives. I was dismayed at November’s community meeting to hear the alderman note that there’d be a bingo room in the senior husing. Seriously?  Older adults enjoy book clubs, political and philosophical discussions, art, cooking together, computer games, and a host of other activities. The notion that “programming” has to be provided for us old folks is just plain wrong. We can entertain ourselves, thank you. Let me note, by the way, that the Chinatown Library, cited as a model by the City, does not program events for adults and seniors separately.  A bonsai tree doesn’t care how old the person tending it is, so why categorize the activity as “adult” or “senor”?

It’s also worth noting that the south end of the ward has several vacant buildings and vacant lots that could become affordable multigenerational housing if only the powers that be would recognize both the need and the demand for such housing—and get busy working to develop abandoned properties. Many families, priced out of apartments of their own, have doubled up; it is not uncommon to find 12-15 people sharing a two-bedroom apartment. Homeowners may not realize that the median rent in Chicago for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,500, a price out of reach for many young families and seniors, the unemployed, underemployed, and new immigrants. According to the Census Bureau, more than 15% of the residents of West Ridge live below poverty level (below $25,000 for a family of four).

Fourth, the completion of this building is timed to coincide with the 2019 elections. We don’t have to accept that timetable.  As I’ve repeated over the past few months, we should take whatever time we need to get this right.

The primary need is for a library. Let’s take as much time and use as many floors as necessary to make sure our library meets the community’s needs and gives some space to grow. Then let’s consider whether senior housing or a cultural center is a better fit.

And if we’re told it’s this building or nothing?

No library, no votes. Say it, mean it, do it.

Citizens settle for what they’re given rather than what they want because they elect officials who tell them what they’ll get rather than listen to what they say.

Finally, there’s the question of economic development on Western Avenue. I’m going to tackle this tomorrow, but let me say here that I believe we should not use precious library space for a coffee bar, coffeeshop, snack bar, or vending area. Instead, let’s look at the desperate need for economic development on Western and determine what kinds of businesses will best support the library and its patrons. The alderman has said she “hopes” the library will attract economic development.

Hoping hasn’t worked in the rest of the ward. It won’t work here.

Frankly, the alderman doesn’t lead unless she’s pushed. She needs to be pushed on this.









Monday’s Community Meeting

PLEASE be sure to attend the community meeting the alderman has arranged for Monday, March 20, at 6:30 p.m. at Warren Park. CHA and CPL officials will be there to get community input on the new library-senior building to be constructed at Pratt and Western.

My guess is that the designs may be unveiled as well. On the other hand, the alderman shares almost nothing of value with her constituents in advance, so it’s possible the designs will be released after the meeting, with the community giving “input” on designs that can’t be changed.

She’s set up an advisory board, but has yet to tell the community who they are. Maybe they’ll be introduced on Monday. Are they a representative cross-section of the neighborhood? Does every area of the ward have some representation? Are all ages, both sexes, all races, religions, and ethnic groups equally represented? Who represents the non-English speaking?  How were the advisory board members selected? Were they recommended by interests friendly to the alderman? Frankly, I think it would have been better had she called for volunteers and then selected names at random. At least the community might have had a fairer chance of adequate representation. Will a board hand-picked by the alderman oppose her on anything?

And what about the senior housing? How were the seniors on her board chosen? Were they recommended by groups seeing to their own interests? Or are they active adults who can advocate for older folks who aren’t interested in a bingo room? Let’s not get carried away by talk of a coffee shop in the library for the old folks or invading the seniors’ spaces for shared craft activities. Aging in America has changed, and the senior spaces need to reflect that. Special programming that encourages dependency is to be avoided.

Speaking of the senior housing, perhaps we can learn how the residents for these apartments will be selected, and who will do the choosing. There are seniors on CHA lists who’ve waited for years for a decent apartment. Will we do the fair thing and choose them? Or is this building going to be reserved for seniors from the neighborhood? You know, people like us? Will social justice lose out to political influence? The new affordable housing to be built in Jefferson Park is to be allocated only to people already living in the neighborhood. Because CHA tenants carry a bad reputation, homeowners’ groups there are fighting the project. Will West Ridge open its new senior housing to seniors on CHA wait lists?  There’s a case to be made for taking care of your own, but what about those who’ve been waiting? Just asking.

I encourage as many people as possible to attend the meeting and be prepared to raise questions and concerns. We have to get the building right, and the library should be the primary focus.  Get the word out. Tell your friends.

The only way to be heard is to speak up.

And keep talking until someone listens.

Community Meeting for New Library-Senior Housing Building

Last Friday the alderman announced that there will be a community meeting on Monday, March 20, at 6:30 p.m. at Warren Park to discuss the new library-senior housing building to be constructed at Pratt and Western. CHA and Library officials will be present to hear for themselves what West Ridge residents want and need in our new facility.

Please be sure to tell friends and neighbors to attend. The larger the crowd the stronger a signal we send that residents have opinions about the new building and expect to be included in the decision-making.