CHA Hearing on Senior Apartments Set for Wednesday Evening–Maybe You Should Go

CHA will hold a hearing on the lease, house rules, and tenant selection process (TSP) for the new Northtown Apartments on Wedneday, July 12, at 6:00 p.m. at the Budlong Woods Library, 5630 North Lincoln. This is the only opportunity for West Ridge residents to speak directly to CHA representatives about the project. The public comment period began on June 28 and ends on July 28 at 5:00 p.m. Beginning July 13, all comments will need to be submitted via the CHA Web site.

The lease is marked “Final,” so I don’t know what good comments will do. The House Rules seem to require some clarification. In my opinion, they are overly-restrictive and provide too many opportunities to terminate leases. The proposed rules would, for example, penalize a tenant who went across the hall in her housecoat to have coffee with a neighbor, or who had a visitor who brought a dog. The rules are clearly aimed at restricting criminal behaviors and gang activity–good things–but I understood the Northtown Apartments would be home to middle-class seniors. However, despite statements to the community that the Northtown Apartments will draw its resident pool from people currently living in West Ridge, the TSP indicates otherwise.

Under the CHA’s right-of-return policy, CHA residents who held housing vouchers on or before October 1, 1999, have the right to apply for housing at the Northtown Apartments. Further, such applicants will be given priority over new applicants. This is not what CHA or Evergreen officials said at community meetings discussing eligibility  for the West Ridge housing.  I raised the question at one meeting: why wouldn’t the next thirty people on the CHA waitlist not be selected? In response, Eugene Jones, CHA Director, asked the audience directly if they didn’t want the tenants to be selected from the neighborhood’s own seniors, which the audience overwhelmingly did. I have no objections to the race or ethnicity of any individual applicant or tenant, but I do object to being misled by City and Evergreen officials. We are a neighborhood which welcomes all people, so there’s no need for this kind of subterfuge.

Another housing project proposed by Evergreen, developer of the Northtown Apartments, recently folded because of Evergreen’s failure to submit a final application to the State for the necessary tax credits, for which it had already received preliminary approval. Ald. Arena’s office said Evergreen had not requested a zoning change for the property. The 43-unit building would have been built at Milwaukee and Wilson.

The news report on this building notes that Evergreen failed to obtain tax credits for a proposed senior housing complex in 2011. I wonder if the tax credits for Northtown Library have been solidified.

I think there are still a lot of unanswered questions. Good thing there’s one public meeting. Too bad it couldn’t be held on a night when the Northtown Library is open late. And it’s too bad the alderman didn’t see fit to announce the public comment period, provide info on where and when the CHA meeting would be held, and invite neighborhood residents to attend.

Click here to read the Final Lease and the house rules.

The TSP can be read here.

 

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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

 

 

Dulhan’s Does It Right

Thanks to Dulhan’s for celebrating America’s Independence Day! It was the only store between California and Western that recognized our country’s birthday.

Dulhan’s displays the American flag on Devon.

It bothers me every year that the merchants on Devon do not recognize or celebrate July 4, yet barely six weeks later the street is festooned with Indian and Pakistani flags and posters celebrating each country’s independence day. America has welcomed its immigrant residents and their businesses, yet there’s no reciprocity. Is it really too much to ask merchants doing business on Devon Avenue to show their gratitude for the opportunities America has given them by acknowledging America’s birthday?

Dulhan’s is to be congratulated for the time and thought given to the store’s patriotic display. The area (southwest corner of Devon and Talman) really looked lovely,

and the flag display added to the beauty of the seating area outside the store.

These were the only American flags to be found on Devon.

For those who haven’t tried Indian clothing, I recommend Dulhan’s. A few years ago my husband, who had suffered a stroke that left him blind and confined to a wheelchair, wanted some comfortable cotton clothing for summer. We purchased two outfits at Dulhan’s that were beautifully made, with intricate embroidery on the tunics. We laughed at the huge pants on one set, but their drawstring waist somehow made the pants just right. And the colors didn’t fade. The staff could not have been kinder or more patient with us.

Frankly, I don’t feel welcome in most of the stores east of California (with good reason, as some are now displaying window signs advising that they reserve the right to refuse service to anyone, no reason for such refusal specified). One merchant, reacting to my stopping to window-shop, picked up his cell phone, opened his door, and snarled “What do you want?” Such behaviors don’t encourage the wider community to support the merchants.

But I can confidently recommend Dulhan’s, not only for its merchandise and its friendly staff, but also because I like people who are proud to be Americans, no matter what their ethnic background. And I believe in supporting local businesses that recognize and celebrate the birth of our nation.

 

 

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Things to Do Over the Long Holiday Weekend

Join your neighbors at Indian Boundary Park in the annual DIY July 4 Parade!  Bring the kids and the dog and carry the Stars & Stripes to celebrate our country’s birthday. Everybody marches and joins in the fun. The park’s at 2500 West Lunt.

Help save the current Northtown Library building for community use: Have a voice in determining its eventual use and show support for keeping this a public building for the community by taking the survey.

Submit your recipes for the Rogers Park – West Ridge Historical Society’s community cookbook project. The deadline has been extended to July 15.

Have a safe and happy July 4!

Berny Stone Park

Today’s DNA Info reports that the alderman and unnamed community groups are supporting a proposal to name our new park at Devon & McCormick “Berny Stone Park.”  The City has begun the 45-day public comment period required before changing the name from Park 526 to Berny Stone Park. I first suggested the honor a year ago, and I’m glad to see that the alderman is acting on it.

 

 

 

It’s Your Park Day!

“It’s Your Park Day” will be celebrated on Saturday, June 17, in parks througout Chicago. It’s a great opportunity to both enjoy and improve some of the most beautiful parks in the U.S. A list of the parks participating in this year’s event appears below. Unfortunately, none of the parks in the 50th Ward are included this year, but neighboring parks are: Buttercup Playlot Park (4901 North Sheridan Road)  and Cedar Park Playlot (5311 North Winthrop), both in Uptown.

The event is sponsored by the Chicago Parks Foundation and Chicago Park District Advisory Councils. Volunteers will contribute to park improvement through a variety of tasks, including trash pickup, tree mulching, and maintaining community gardens. They will also replace fibar on playgrounds–that kind of bouncy cushion that serves as flooring in park playgrounds and keeps kids of all ages from injuries during falls or hard landings. Tools will be provided by Home Depot.

You’ll be rewarded for your hard work with a tee shirt, Trader Joe’s fruit, KIND snacks, High Brew coffee, and water. You’ll also have the satisfaction of accomplishing a good deed as well as a more beautiful park to enjoy this summer. Last year more than 700 volunteers gave their time to 37 parks across the city. This year, more than 41 parks have registered for the event.

It’s Your Park Day is set for Saturday, June 17, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Volunteers are encouraged to register in advance.

Learn more about the Chicago Parks Foundation here.

Participating Parks
Bell Park
Bessemer Park
Bradley Park
Brown Memorial Park
Burnside Park
Buttercup PlaylotPark
California Park
Cedar Playlot Park
Cragin Park,
Dawes Park
(Don) Nash Park
Elm Park
Fred Anderson Park
Garfield Park
Golden Gate & Carver Parks
Hadiya Pendleton Park
Hoard Playground Park
Independence Par
kackson Park
Kelly (John H.) Par
kKelvyn Park
Kenwood Park
Lorraine Dixon Park
Major Taylor Bike Trail
McGuane Park
McKinley Park
Meyering Park
Midway Plaisance Park
Moran Playground Park
Mozart ParkPark
578
Ping Tom Memorial Park
Rainbow Beach Park
Rutherford
Sayre Park
Skinner Park
South Shore Park
Valley Forge Park
Washington Park
Welles Park
West Chatham Park
Wicker Park
Wildwood Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Menu Money Mess

The City’s Office of the Inspector General.(OIG) has released its audit of aldermanic menu money. OIG reports that the program is underfunded, does not follow the “best practices” recommended by the Government Financial Officers Association, and suffers management difficulties ranging from lack of communication between departments to the inability to develop a comprehensive citywide capital projects planning process.

Each ward’s menu money has remained fixed at $1.32M for the past ten years, while the costs of improvements (materials, labor) have increased. Projects are not prioritized by the City Department of Transportation (CDOT). Instead, each alderman decides which infrastructure improvements will be funded in a given ward—and which will not. Some City residents have a voice in how menu money is spent through participatory budgeting, but most do not. .

CDOT does not allocate funds on the basis of need. Put plainly, the City’s history of disinvestment in poorer wards and CDOT’s insistence on providing each alderman the same amount of menu money means that some areas of the City continue to deteriorate while others can spend on beautification.

In his April 19 letter forwarding the OIG report to the Mayor, aldermen, and other City officials, Inspector General Joseph M. Ferguson was blunt:

“OIG found that the administration of the Menu program does not align with best practices for infrastructure planning ….This audit identified significant concerns related to the City’s planning and management of residential infrastructure. For example, we determined that the allocation of $1.32 million per ward bears no relationship to the actual infrastructure needs of each ward.” [Emphasis added]

OIG recommends that infrastructure planning and repair be handled by CDOT, stating that “CDOT [should] fully inhabit its role in residential infrastructure planning by directly implementing a comprehensive, multi-year strategic capital plan for maintenance and improvement.” CDOT’s response?  “[T]he Department reasserted its general but analytically unsupported belief that current practice provides an “appropriate framework” for addressing core residential infrastructure needs.” [Emphasis added]

OIG also recommends that CDOT conduct a citywide analysis of residential infrastructure needs; and that the City allocate funding per ward based on that need.

The level of incompetence displayed by high-ranking City employees is staggering. Basic management practices are absent. Officials admit they don’t analyze needs or seek information from one another before creating budgets, and don’t measure what, if any, impact the allocated funding has. All the wards get the same amount of money, even if actual needs don’t justify it, because nobody has determined what each ward’s needs are.

Aldermen control infrastructure spending within the limits set by the level of funding the City can afford. The City pays high interest rates on its constant borrowing, leaving little money  available for capital improvement projects. For example, in  the book Chicago Is Not Broke budget expert Ralph Matire notes that, in 2016, 44% of the City budget was consumed by interest payments, while only 19% was allocated to infrastructure improvement.

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) in its recent comments on the OIG report compared Chicago to other cities around the country.  In New York, the city’s DOT controls the process and the funding. In Los Angeles, a citywide database is used to track street conditions; resurfacing is determined by both need and cost. Houston and Philadelphia give responsibility for street improvements to their respective DOTs; streets are resurfaced based on need.

Some of the OIG more disturbing findings:

  • CDOT “does not perform comprehensive, long-term analysis to determine annual residential infrastructure needs…. “
  • Office of Management and Budget [OBM] “does not seek input from CDOT regarding estimated residential infrastructure need…”
  • Neither CDOT nor OBM has analyzed whether the menu money meets infrastructure needs.
  • CDOT does not prioritize projects, or insist that capital assets whose repair will increase in cost in future years be addressed first, but leaves decision-making to the aldermen
  • The fact that menu money spending is decided on an annual basis by individual aldermen prevents long-range, comprehensive, citywide infrastructure planning
  • Residential infrastructure needs were not fully met in any of the City’s fifty wards. (Pothole repair don’t count in terms of  infrastructure repair. Potholes are considered a “deficient piece” of a “whole component” ([the street), and do not replace the whole component when filled.).
  • In 2014, aldermen were allowed to spend menu money not only in the ward to which they were elected but also in areas added to their wards in the 2011 ward redistricting, even though the new ward boundaries would not take effect until 2015. {CDOT has accepted OIG’s recommendation that this practice be ended.]
  • Aldermen are permitted to spend menu money on non-infrastructure projects. [CDOT has said this practice will continue as long as rules and regulations governing funding sources are not broken.]
  • Nineteen aldermen failed to comply with CDOT deadlines for submitting menu money spending requests. [CDOT has agreed to enforce submission deadlines.]
  • The best-funded ward is the 46th, which covered 88.5% of its infrastructure needs from menu money, leaving a deficit of $218,563, while the worst-funded, the 34th ward, covered only 15.1% of its infrastructure needs, leaving a deficit of $9.5M. [Menu money does not reflect the size of the ward or the level of infrastructure repair that’s necessary. The 46th ward has only 165.6 street blocks and 80 alley blocks, compared to 888 street blocks and 677.6 alley blocks in the 34th.]
  • Installing a left-turn arrow cost $70,000 per intersection in 2014 (see pages 24-26 for CDOT cost breakdowns for repairs to streets, alleys, etc.)
  • OIG estimated the annualized costs for street and alley repairs over the life cycle of each type of repair. (See details of other repairs/replacements on page 30.)
    • What’s the annual cost of resurfacing a residential street? $4,950 per year for 20 years.
    • An alley?  $3,375 per year for 20 years.
    • Street lighting? $1,464 for 50 years.
    • Curb replacement?  $1,600 per year for 50 years.

Earlier this week I watched from my window as eight City workers planted a single sapling on a neighbor’s parkway. Seven men to dig the hole, stand the tree inside, and put the dirt back. The eighth man drove the forklift. I thought about this again over the past two days while reading the OIG report.

The private sector couldn’t operate this way. The very least a public employee should offer is competence. The very least an employee should expect is  a workplace that has a clearly-defined purpose and goals, and a planned, logical, and reasonable method of achieving those goals. How can a program be created to solve a problem that hasn’t been analyzed? How can a budget be prepared without the kind of basic information needed to establish an efficient and effective spending plan? How can departments working on the same problem not communicate with one another? sn’t anybody in charge?

No wonder so many people are voting with their feet.

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Let’s look at the findings specific to the 50th Ward.

To maintain the 50th Ward’s 383.2 residential street blocks and 304 residential alley blocks, OIG reports that $5,265,165 in menu money was spent from 2012-2015 on residential infrastructure improvements. It was allocated as follows:

  • 91.8%  – Streets
  •  5.91% – Street Lighting
  •  0.8%   – Sidewalks & Pedestrian-Related Projects
  •  1.3%  –  Alleys
  •   0.1% –  Traffic

From 2012-2015, no menu money was spent in the 50th on curbs and gutters, painting, cameras, bike lanes, the Chicago Park District, Chicago Public Schools, or any other CDOT or non-CDOT project.

In 2015, the cost of maintaining residential street and alley blocks was $4,856,947; menu money covered 34.6% of of that total and ADA-compliance funding another $360,000, leaving a deficit of $3,176,947.

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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.

Avy Meyers

Avy Meyers, host of the award-winning news program North Town News and publisher of the newspaper Jewish Chicago, died over the Memorial Day weekend.

His cable TV program was truly must-see TV. Both a gracious host and a tough questioner, Avy never hesitated to inject his own strong opinions. I looked forward to the election editions of Jewish Chicago because of the strong reasoning for his endorsements. I didn’t always agree with him, but I could understand and appreciate his thought process. He never hesitated to call it the way he saw it. He brought the same qualities to his role as CAPS Beat Coordinator, serving in that capacity for several years until stepping down this March.

By all accounts he was a good neighbor and a loyal friend. Breitbart News lauded him as a “citizen journalist.”  I think he’d be proud of that.

Avy Meyers was a West Ridge treasure, and he will be missed.

WBEZ Mischaracterizes Neighborhood Watch

Yesterday’s report on the West Ridge Community Watch Program broadcast by our local NPR station, WBEZ, was inaccurate in several respects, from the color of and legend on the jackets to the extent of concern by residents that Watch participants are somehow spies for the police. To suggest that the Watch program is racist in nature is a gross mischaracterization of the program, its participants, and our local police.

Members of the Community Watch program are neighbors watching out for neighbors. A single resident, Jennifer Viets, was interviewed by Odette Youseff of WBEZ and described Watch participants as “menacing” people in “uniforms” who have been “deputized;” worse, she has told neighbors with nonwhite children that they have reason to be afraid of Watch participants. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sgt. Shawn Sisk of the 24th District CAPS Office at the February 6, 2017, Neighborhood Watch Program organizational meeting. He is wearing the yellow jacket which all Watch program participants wear while walking.

The Neighborhood Watch Program was formed as a response to property crimes, especially vehicle theft and thefts from yards, porches, garages, and vehicles. The idea is simple: Neighbors walk a few blocks around their neighborhood, noting unsecured or open doors on homes, garages, apartment buildings, or vehicles, or piles of rat-attracting garbage. Watchers may ring a doorbell to advise a homeowner that the garage has been left open or a bike left outside, or take a quick photo of the garbage and send it to the City via 311. If Watchers see public drinking, drug sales, or suspicious activities, such as someone walking down the street trying to open car doors, they call 911. Sgt. Sisk noted in the WBEZ report that most of the thefts occurred because people were not locking their doors.

Watchers have been specifically instructed by the police not to assume police powers and not to intervene in any situation; their sole role is to notify the City or the police of what, if anything, they note on their walks. They may not use their vehicles or ride bikes but must walk. They may not carry weapons or use police scanners, and must obey the law at all times. Watchers must be older than age 21. They can walk with their dogs (the dogs must be leashed). It’s suggested that two people walk together. Most importantly, Watchers have been told not to misrepresent themselves as police officers. They have no power to detain or arrest anyone.

Viets has complained in the past of her son’s treatment by the police several years ago when he was a young teenager (he is now an adult). I first heard her story last summer when she attended an event hosted by the alderman at which then-new Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson was to meet residents of West Ridge. She said she was planning to confront Johnson with her story; he was unable to attend but Viets repeated her son’s story to the crowd. Youseff was careful in her report to note that the son “has never been convicted” of any crime, and in a follow-up interview said the young man had “no criminal record.” The police, of course, cannot discuss their encounters with either the young man or his mother, which leaves us with half the story. But Viets has assumed such an extreme anti-policing position that her window displays a sign saying “We don’t call police…..”

She also noted that all the Watchers are white, suggesting that the group is racist. But membership is open to all interested residents, and Watchers safeguard the property of non-white residents, too. Neither the police nor the Community Watch can be held accountable if non-white residents choose not to participate. If protecting your home, vehicle, and other property are not enough motivation for you to join the group, so be it. Participation is voluntary. Watchers do not discriminate, and would welcome neighbors of all races and ethnicities. Residents can opt in as well as out.

Youseff did note that the number of car thefts around Indian Boundary has decreased, though it’s not clear if this is a result of the Neighborhood Watch or simply a return to the “normal” level of that crime in the area. I’d bet the Watch has had an impact.

Viets told Youseff that she wants to try to develop a different approach to community-building.  She’s working with others to organize “resistance” and suggested that the shootings of Trayvon Martin by a community watch volunteer in Florida and of a black teenager by a Cleveland police officer support her concerns. It’s unfortunate that she cannot move past her anger with the police for what she believes is past injustice. Using that anger to deepen the racial divide does not help build community.

It’s wrong to suggest that our neighborhood watch program is cause for alarm. Good people keeping an eye out for potential trouble are an asset to the neighborhood.