New Info on Library-Senior Housing Building

There’s some new information that the alderman won’t tell you about but I will.

CHA has made available its “Draft Tenant Selection Plan (TSP), Lease, and other documents that will apply to resident occupancy at Independence or Northtown Apartments.” Note that the posted Lease from Evergreen is in its final form. Some of Evergreen’s House Rules may require modification or explanation.

For example, no volunteer work may be performed within any apartment. Does this include phone calls in behalf of a neighborhood group, or stuffing envelopes? No turkey frying is permitted, and neither is a turkey fryer. No candles, either. Tenants with a prescription for medical marijuana may not smoke the pot in the building. This seems unduly harsh. Forcing the old folks out into the snow so they can smoke medical marijuana for pain relief? Sheesh.

I found the pet policies interesting. Only one fur-bearing animal or two birds per unit, although tenants can have an “unlimited number of fish,” or at least as many as will fit in a 10-gallon tank. Tenants can have visitors, but play dates for their dogs or cats are not allowed in the building.

Tenants can have overnight visitors only 20 days per year.

NOTE: The public comment period began at 8:00 a.m. on June 28 and expires at 5:00 p.m. on July 28. The public hearing will be held  July 12 at  6:00 p.m. at the Budlong Woods Library, 5630 N Lincoln, Chicago, IL

 

 

A Brief Community Meeting

The alderman has called a “brief community meeting” to discuss the new library building, this time with an emphasis on the senior housing to be built on the second and third floors. The meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 12, at Warren Park at 6:30 p.m.

Since last October’s announcement that a new library would finally be built, the alderman has held three meetings with residents (November 14, March 20, May 1) to discuss plans and listen to the concerns and opinions of the library’s users, residents, and the new building’s neighbors. The first meeting lasted two hours, the others one hour each, for a total of four hours of neighborhood input.

Two surveys were distributed. One, created by the LEARN Coalition, offered the alderman, the designers, and City officials detailed information about what library users want in the new facility. The other, created by the alderman and her secret advisory committee, provided information collected largely from non-users and schoolchildren. At best, it reinforced the information acquired by LEARN. Overall, it was a joke.

The alderman has yet to tell the residents of West Ridge who serves on her secret advisory committee and why and how they were chosen. She announced on March 17 that the committee had been formed but chose not to tell her constituents who was selected to represent them in critical discussions with CHA and the designers. As I understand it, the secret advisory committee learned of the June 12 meeting when residents did. This strongly suggests that all the decisions have been made and no further input is needed or wanted from residents or the secret advisory committee.

I wonder who’ll advise the CHA on which of the alderman’s supporters should score apartments for themselves, family members, and friends. CHA has already decided to create a new applicant pool for the building, rather than select the next 30 West Ridge residents on its current waitlists. Too many waitlists, better to start over, we were told. Politics should not play a role in tenant selection, but this is West Ridge, where one-family rule has rendered transparency irrelevant.

The library is scheduled to open in December 2018, just in time for the February 2019 municipal elections, not that there’s any connection. The existing library will close in September of 2018, just as the school year begins, to allow the transfer of books and other materials to the new building. A cynic might think that the political futures of the mayor and the alderman take precedence over the futures of neighborhood children.

Can’t you just see the gala opening? Ice and snow, subzero cold, gale-force winds, frozen microphones, shivering populace standing awestruck as Power lauds itself for spending our tax dollars to build a library and public housing with working electricity and a roof that doesn’t leak? Or maybe the building will open quietly, with the gala reserved for the following Spring.

After the elections.

Libraries

I don’t like the interior design of the new library because I think it panders to our worst behavioral excesses. Library administrators seem to believe that turning places for learning into Starbucks with books will somehow improve scholarship and build community. “This is the way libraries are used now,” is what I hear. But should we exchange peace and quiet for excessive noise and bad behavior?

I visited the Chinatown library to see the new design and booked a computer for a couple of hours in the afternoon. A few minutes later, two men arrived with their coffee and newspapers, and began a long, laugh-filled talk at normal conversational levels. A young man sat with his laptop and cell phone, and began returning a series of calls while surfing the Web. People called out to one another across the room. At the Edgewater library it’s especially bad when teens are present, because their TV is blasting and they scream at one another as if they were in a park. When the kids take over after school, Northtown is so noisy it’s hard to think.

Why do we encourage such behavior? Why is it so wrong to tell people who demand safe spaces and freedom from bullying that their own behavior is antisocial? That disturbing other people is unacceptable? That running, shouting, and other behaviors acceptable outside do not belong indoors?

CPL gave up on encouraging good behavior when it allowed cell phone use and coffee in the library. I’ve listened to people discussing their HIV status, toileting habits, overdue bills, and domestic fights while they browse the stacks or surf the Web. Kids run through libraries the way they run through parks. Adults greet neighbors and carry on conversations as though they were in their own homes and not in a public place where other people are trying to read, write, or perform some research activity, whether a term paper or family tree. Libraries used to be the places one could find peace and quiet for reading and reflection. Now they’re designed to encourage conversation and raucous behavior.

Someone once said that Starbucks is where we go to be alone together, everyone in his own chair focused on a laptop or phone, latte at hand.

Libraries are like that now. Too bad.

Post-Survey Thoughts

So, where were we? Oh, yes. The alderman gave the architects the results of her library survey—the one that showed that 7 out of 10 respondents don’t use the Northtown Library, slightly more than half of respondents (52%) never even visit the Northtown Library, and 76% of the 600 respondents under age 16 voted in favor of a coffee bar but did not support space for the community to meet. She said these results would aid in designing the library we all need and want.

The alderman also stated in her newsletter that the LEARN Survey obtained similar results. It did not. It asked different questions, but even where the questions were comparable, results differ significantly. This is because the LEARN Survey was a serious attempt to gather information from the community, and not a last-minute pastiche of poorly-conceived questions designed to deflect attention from the lack of information coming from the alderman’s office.

Had the alderman been serious about gathering information, she would have taken the time to properly design her survey: First question: Do you use the Northtown Library? “Yes” respondents should have been directed to one set of follow-up questions, “No” respondents to another set. It’s more important for planners to know WHY someone doesn’t use the library than to know that non-users would like to have a coffee bar. It should not be up to the alderman, the architects, or the residents to guess at the reasons people don’t use the Northtown facility; that question should have been part of the survey. If answers are subject to interpretation, then the survey has failed its most important test: Does it tell us what we want to know?

Input from the neighborhood’s children could have been captured by a separate survey designed with them in mind. Children should have a voice in selecting books and media bought for their use, but they should not be voting on the need for a community meeting room.

Whoever thought it a good idea to have the kids take the survey in class or for homework or whatever other reason has done the community a disservice. I’m sure it was meant well, but the overwhelming number of under-16 responses means the survey’s results are distorted and therefore almost meaningless.To disregard the children’s vote is as bad as giving it too much weight. Did the alderman attempt to mitigate the disproportionate response from the youngest group when she sent the results downtown? If so, how? If not, why? Was there any cover letter outlining her interpretation of the results?  Can we see it?

The survey-takers did not include one key demographic—those aged 17 to 25. These young adults are finishing high school, starting or in college or grad school, or just beginning their work lives, seeking jobs and opportunities to help get a start in life. Only seven people in this age range took the survey, and that is simply not representative of the neighborhood.

Transmitting highlights of the survey results to the community via the alderman’s weekly newsletter was in my opinion the wrong way to make the results available. For one thing, not everybody subscribes to her newsletter; for another, those who get print copies don’t have access to the full survey results (the link to those is a “click here” function, not a URL). I had hoped that the alderman and her Advisory Board would take the time to pull the results of her survey and the LEARN survey together so that the community—and the architects—might gather truly useful information that would be fully and fairly considered as the building plans move forward. I had also hoped that the alderman would then discuss these results with residents.

Instead we got an information dump on the weekend before Passover and Holy Week, with the alderman’s Devon office closed for three of the following five work days.

Time is rapidly slipping away and I wonder if it’s already too late for residents to play a significant role in this project. If the building is to be delivered on schedule—December 2018, 20 months from now—you can bet more decisions have already been finalized than we now know. Maybe the quest for  “community input” is nothing more than the sham already suspected.

The last community meeting was on March 20, more than three weeks ago. The “many, many meetings” promised are not being scheduled. Alderman?

 

 

 

 

The Alderman’s Library Survey

Results from the alderman’s survey, released yesterday, make interesting reading.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. According to the alderman’s newsletter, “more than 1,500 people have completed” her survey, reportedly “…a broad and diverse segment of the 50th Ward” including “speakers of all the major languages spoken in the neighborhood….”  [There was a question on the survey asking which languages respondents speak, but the survey itself was available online only in English.] The alderman says that she’s “…given the survey results to the project architects, so they can use your comments and input to design a library that fits the unique needs and desires…” of West Ridge residents.

A closer look at the results reveals that:

  • 68% of respondents don’t use the Northtown Library
    • 32% use a different library
    • 36% don’t use Northtown
    • 32% use Northtown.
  • 52% of respondents don’t even visit the Northtown Library
  • 37% of respondents are over age 50 (555 respondents based on 1,500 total)
    • Their votes were distributed most evenly across choices; the only group to highly rank adult reading space and community meeting rooms as top priorities
    • 63% want an outdoor reading space
    • 56% want a coffee bar
  • 23% of respondents are between ages 16 and 49 (345 respondents) with  (2%, or 7 respondents, between ages 16 – 25)
    • Overwhelmingly in favor of children’s space and technology; fewest votes for community meeting rooms and adult reading spaces (no surprises here–these are the prime parenting years)
    • 73% want an outdoor reading space
    • 63% want a coffee bar
  • 40% of respondents are children 16 and under (600 respondents)
    • Most votes for technology, children’s and teen spaces; very little interest in adult reading space; least interested in community meeting rooms
    • 83% want an outdoor reading space
    • 76% want a coffee bar

This is community input? The alderman passed this along to the architects as what the community wants? A coffee bar chosen by children? Results determined by people who don’t use the library? Who don’t even visit? Who apparently took the survey as a classroom exercise? If we build the coffee bar, will the children come?

I sometimes wonder if the alderman is paying attention to what she’s doing. It’s simply inexcusable to present her survey results to the architects when they are clearly just plain goofy.  It’s irresponsible of her to ignore the results of the LEARN survey, which was not heavily influenced by kids but was taken by thoughtful adults trying to provide serious input on a major community project. Had she gone to the community for input sooner, she might have designed a survey whose results could have been useful in planning the new library.

The alderman should have scrapped her survey results and started over.

Unless we want 600 kids to be the determining factor in what kind of library we get.

 

 

 

 

We Need Answers from Ald. Silverstein

Alderman Silverstein needs to hear from residents about two important matters related to the new library.

First, when is the next community meeting?  This needs to be scheduled as soon as possible, since the building is scheduled to be completed by December 2018, and it’s already April 2017. If residents are going to have meaningful input, it needs to happen NOW.

Second, who are the members of the alderman’s Advisory Board? The alderman must reveal their names and affiliations and tell us why they were chosen to represent the neighborhood, given that there was no call for volunteers. How were its members chosen from among all eligible residents? Further, because this Advisory Board meets with the alderman to discuss a government-funded building, the Minutes of those meetings should also be released to the community.

Contact the Alderman via phone (773-262-1050) or email (info@50thwardchicago.com).

NOTE: The alderman continues to use a private, untraceable email account for public business. According to the official City of Chicago Web site, her proper official email address, using the taxpayer-funded, city-provided secure system, is ward50@cityofchicago.org.

As regular readers know, the alderman is not subject to FOIA requests because individual aldermen are not “public bodies,” i.e., they cannot act alone. However, emails sent or received using her City-provided email address can be FOIA’d because the City is a public body.

A secret Advisory Board. Minutes from its meetings unreleased. Public business conducted via a private email address.

Doesn’t seem right, does it?

 

Mysteries of the New Library

The last community meeting on the new library was on March 20. On March 17, the alderman announced that she had formed an advisory committee to work with her on the new development. Two weeks later, she has still not divulged who is on the advisory committee or how they were chosen, nor has she explained why she did not call for volunteers from within the community to serve in that capacity. Why all the secrecy?

The whole project is shrouded in mystery, from the surprise announcement last October to the appointment of a secret advisory board two weeks ago. There have been two community meetings, which yielded no answers other than this-hasn’t-been-decided or that’s-still-on-the-table. The meetings are supposedly an opportunity for the community to provide input, but how can that be done when nobody knows anything and nobody in authority is taking notes? Did you notice that? Not a single staff member from the library, the CHA, or the alderman’s office could be seen taking notes. This suggests that everything has already been decided, the community meetings are mere window dressing.

Take the building design. The mayor chose which neighborhood would get which design, and the selection for West Ridge is too modern to complement the traditional architectural standards of our neighborhood. The alderman clearly got a lot of calls about it, because CHA’s Eugene Jones announced at the start of the last meeting that this was not the final design. What??? The mayor himself personally called members of the press to tout the designs, according to the Tribune‘s Blair Kamin. Is the design really subject to change?

Take the selection of residents for senior housing. Jones said he’d open the housing applications for the building in January 2018.  In response to a direct question from me about why West Ridge seniors already on the CHA waitlist have to reapply, he replied that those already waiting may not be “certified,” whatever that means. I didn’t understand his explanation. The way the system is supposed to work is that, once you’re approved for CHA housing, you go on a waitlist and get a unit when your turn comes up. Why should anyone have to re-apply? Jones joked that, since he’s turning 62 this year, if an apartment comes up he’d get it before anyone else. Funny. But, if true, that’s exactly the kind of political influence that we should guard against. Nobody should get an apartment in this development because they know or support the alderman or other political figures, or because politically-connected groups recommend them for residency. Will the secret advisory board help choose the residents? This is a serious matter that requires serious oversight, perhaps from the courts. There should be no political influence determining who gets housing.

Nobody knows what the secret advisory board is discussing. The alderman has no page on her bare-bones Web site dealing with the most important building project to occur in West Ridge since the Devon street scape. No minutes of any meetings. No names of any advisors. No numbers on the “fantastic responses to the 50th Ward Library Survey,” as touted in this week’s aldermanic newsletter. No mention of the LEARN Coalition library survey. No transparency, as usual.

And still no sign on the pile of rubble that will become the new library announcing that  there are, in fact, big plans for the site.

It’s hard to move forward when you’re covering your tracks.

 

 

“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

 

Take the Survey on the New Northtown Library!

The LEARN Coalition has just released its community survey, a planning tool that asks West Ridge residents to give the designers, architects, and alderman feedback about what we’d like to see in our new library. It also provides space for respondents to state their own preferences for ideas that might not appear on the survey.  All responses will be submitted online.

Surveys are due on or before March 15.

The LEARN Coalition is the community’s voice in making our new library a reality. LEARN created the petition for the library and secured more than 2,000 signatures. The petition was presented to the alderman and was instrumental in persuading the Library Board that West Ridge residents needed, wanted, and would support a new facility. It’s critical that the community continue to show that support by responding to LEARN’s survey.

Survey results will be presented to the alderman and the community as well as the developers, the designers and architects, and the Library Board.

 

 

People Power & the New Library

A summer of petitions and citizen activism led to last night’s community meeting about the new library to be built at Pratt & Western. A crowd of more than 100 residents was presented with a sheet of photos and renderings showing what might be an approximation of the proposals to be voted on by the community at a later date. As of now, nothing is known for sure except the site, and the alderman promised “many, many more” community meetings to come before she and her staff select the final proposals and present them to the community for a vote on the final design.

Community meetings with the alderman are a rarity, and this is the first one in her six years as alderman where she actively sought real citizen input into the decision-making process. While I’m sure that more than we know is already set in stone, there appears to be room for community input this time.

I am convinced that none of this would have happened had it not been for (a) the LEARN Coalition’s petition for a new library, which garnered more than 2,000 signatures in the last few months and finally got the process moving; (b) POWR’s petition for a referendum on participatory budgeting, which was signed by nearly 125 voters per week in its four-week attempt to make last week’s ballot, an effort which sadly fell short of the number of signatures needed; and (3) Donald Trump’s election victory, which sent a wake-up call to complacent politicians.

People want change, they want input, and they are ready to throw out politicians who aren’t listening.

It’s worth noting that, although the handout from the meeting outlines a two-year process, Eugene Jones of CHA says the Mayor has ordered him to get this accomplished in 18 months.  That would be just in time for the latter stages of the 2018 campaign for the 2019 municipal elections. At this writing, it appears that both Emanuel and Silverstein will be running again, and she is one of his most dependable supporters. A new library is a good talking point for both of them. It’s also proof that politicians can get things done when it’s in their best interests to do so. There’s no motivator like re-election.

Present at the meeting were Ald. Silverstein, Eugene Jones of CHA, Patrick Malloy and Andrea Telli of the Chicago Public Library, more than 100 residents, Sen. Silverstein, and the alderman’s parents.

Residents learned that very little information is available, but there were still some important issues raised. The residents asking questions after the brief formal presentation were sharp and focused, asking about everything from the book budget to parking, traffic congestion, and the layout of the building. Topics covered included:

The LEARN Coalition

Although the alderman still has not mentioned LEARN by name, she did thank signers of the petition for the impact they had on securing the new library. Several residents did thank the LEARN Coalition for its 18 months of work seeking input from the community and obtaining signatures from residents to support community demands for a new building.

LEARN’s Chairman, Tony Martinez, offered the Coalition’s assistance as the process moves forward, noting that “consistent communication” between residents and City officials is vital to the project’s success, as is the need to include as wide a cross-section  of the community as possible in future meetings.

The Building

There will be an architectural competition for the contract to design the new library. How the contractor will be chosen was not discussed.  CHA will own the building; the library will pay “a nominal fee” to rent its space, according to Jones. Although a developer will handle the actual construction, CHA will run the building. However, because HUD doesn’t want to fund libraries, CHA will fund this project, the first of its kind in the country. (See Financing, below).

Silverstein gave the Mayor full credit for the concept of housing atop the library. She said the process “started here” with the petition. At other times she claimed to have been involved in the process for “a very long time.” In response to a resident’s question whether there were any other options for the building, she gave a definite “No, this is the way it was presented to us,” suggesting that her involvement may have been minimal and that other forces may have played a larger role than has been acknowledged.

Once the architects have finished their designs, the alderman and her staff will choose which designs to present to the community for a final vote. Jones noted that West Ridge is “the first one we’re doing” and that the community’s input “will be an integral part of the design process.” He added that “CHA is all about working with the community.”

The number of lots in play is a bit murky, with both the alderman and Jones saying two lots while a persistent resident pointed out that, based on frontage estimates, there would be six city lots involved. Jones said the building designer would “figure it out.” Using the figure of two, Silverstein and Jones said that one lot would be reserved for parking, and the building would be constructed on the other lot.

Most of the building will be given over to senior husing, which will occupy the two stories above the library.

There may be a coffee shop on the first floor. It was not specified whether this would be part of the library space, cut from the library space, or part of the senior housing. It might not be a good idea to invite strangers into senior housing unless there are safeguards for tenants, like security guards or key entry to the tenant lobby.

One resident was met with applause for asking that the building be certified “green.” Another resident suggested attention be paid to wind and tornado resistance as well as the use of tubular skylights.

It has not been determined if the alley behind the development will be closed off. Traffic congestion at Pratt & Western was another resident’s concern, and that, too, was deferred for later discussion.

Financing

CHA will finance the project and will use state tax credits. Silverstein said that TIF monies were not available. “There’s no extra money for the library,” she added.  Jones told the audience that “we’re not starting something we’re not going to be able to finish.”

There are two active TIFs in West Ridge. The Lincoln Village TIF spent $600,000 to create Park 525 at Devon & McCormick. This was essentially to guarantee the sale of the old Cineplex theater to a storage company, the sale being contingent on turning an MWRD parking lot into green space. As I understand it, the Devon-Western TIF pays the interest on the construction of West Ridge Elementary School.

A resident wanted to know about the tax implications of having the library share a building with public housing. Would this result in a tax increase for residents? Jones answered that no property tax increase was expected. Another resident commented that he preferred a library to the shuttered bingo hall that had occupied the site for years. CHA property, however, will be off the tax rolls, while a check of the property records reveals the bingo hall’s owners did pay property taxes.

Jones may have spoken too soon. With such a large parcel added to the growing number of properties in the ward which do not pay real estate taxes, it’s safe to say that someone is going to get an increase. More on this in another post.

Senior Housing

There will be 30 one-bedroom apartments situated on two floors above the library. The photo in the handout (top right) suggests what a typical unit might look like. Each unit will be limited to 1-2 adults age 62 or over; family members will not be permitted to move in. No word yet on overnight guests. The entrance to the senior housing will be separate from the entrance to the library.

There may or may not be one parking space per unit, Jones said, adding “We’ll figure it out.” To a question about whether underground parking might be available for the units, Jones responded “All that is on the table.”

The question of who would qualify for the apartments was not answered directly, with Jones late in the meeting suggesting that “some” local residents may be accepted. Tenant selection will include the alderman and the community, a curious decision. Why should politics play a role in determining who qualifies for an apartment? This needs clarification and discussion.

Politicians and politics should be excluded from the tenant selection process, especially since it is known that CHA has a waiting list for its senior housing. There are both moral and legal questions arising from any decision to favor local residents—especially those with political connections–over seniors already at the top of the waiting list.

Library Features

The new library will be spacious—16,000 sq. ft.—and Telli noted it will include an early learning area; school age area; space for teens; small meeting rooms for the community; shorter stacks, and more public computers. There will be a STEM program similar to that in Albany Park, and the teacher-in-the-library program will continue. Like all new libraries, she said, it will receive an “Opening Day Collection” of 30,000-50,000 “brand new books.”

There will be no specific ethnic collections, Telli said, since the library’s books are chosen to appeal to the majority of users. However, there could be “boutique collections” and patrons are welcome to request books from throughout the system.

Because the new library will be physically larger than the existing library and will offer more programming to various groups, its staff will also be larger. However, it has not been determined if additional senior services will be offered, although there may be more adult services provided.

Telli noted that the library is currently open 48 hours per week; libraries used to be open longer but hours were cut during past budget reductions; however, “we’re always having discussions” about hours and increasing the hours is “absolutely on the table.” Trust me, it will happen.

The Current Library

No one knows what will happen to the current library building. It’s owned by the City, which may repurpose, demolish, or sell it. There are other possibilities for it, and I think the community should have a voice in what happens to it. I suspect it’s already spoken-for, since that’s the way things are usually done around here, but I’d like to see some community discussion around its fate.

Economic Development

The alderman once again noted that she “hopes” the new library will spur economic development on Western, “which we so desperately need.” She’s got that right. As it stands, we’ll be exchanging one vacant building for another.

But, if you think about it, maybe it Silverstein always intended to move the library to Western, which would explain why she refused to permit the medical marijuana dispensary (MMD), with its jobs for veterans and the disabled and its property taxes, to open, and why she had the site secretly rezoned so that no other business could operate there.  The taxi parking lot which the MMD would have replaced won’t be permitted to remain, you can count on that. It will be interesting and instructive to see who buys the site and what gets built across the street from the new library.

There’s never a dull moment in the 50th.