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.

 

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.

 

 

.

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.

 

 

 

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.

____________________________________________________________________

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.

___________________________________________________________________

 

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.

Help WRCO Save the Old Library

The current Northtown Library will close in Fall of next year as its contents are transferred to the new facility at Pratt & Western. The alderman stated at the most recent community meeting that the old library building belongs to the City.

Concerned residents have been asking about saving this building for community use. Although not of major architectural significance, it is a fine example of mid-century modern design and is still in solid shape. It could be repurposed to serve the community as an arts, community, or senior center. It’s important that the West Ridge community have a say in the fate of this facility.

Therefore, the West Ridge Community Organization (WRCO) has decided to launch a petition drive to save the old library building. More than that, it will soon release a community survey seeking input from residents on the best uses for the building. Petitions will be available soon, and in the meantime you can contact WRCO directly through its Web site. The group is currently conducting a membership drive, and has launched an impressive series of community improvement initiatives in addition to the save-the-library activity.

Be part of the change that’s sweeping over West Ridge!

Is Chicago Broke? Find Out at the Northtown Library on April 27

The West Ridge Community Organization (WRCO) and People of West Ridge (POWR)are co-sponsoring a book discussion on Thursday, April 27, at the Northtown Library. Our guests will be the editor and authors of “Chicago Is Not Broke: A Guide to Funding the City We Deserve.”  While the City waits to learn whether the Mayor will raise taxes and/or fees or simply borrow the money to cover the $200M shortfall in the Chicago Public Schools’ budget, residents can explore other solutions that, if implemented, could result in a tax reduction. Yes, you heard that right.

Each chapter’s author(s) explores a single topic in depth, including TIFs, a public bank, a progressive income tax, the costs of corruption, and the impact of toxic bank deals that force the City to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on debt service payments before a single penny can be spent on City services.

Authors of the book include former alderman Dick Simpson, Hilary Denk, an attorney and a Director of the League of Women Voters of Illinois, 2015 mayoral candidate Amara Enyia, former reporter and communications consultant Thomas J. Graedel, Chicago Teachers Union Staff Coordinator Jackson Pollock, and economics professor Ron Baiman. Editor Tom Tresser is well-known to Chicagoans as the man who first questioned the costs of staging the 2016 Olympics in Chicago and organized the “No Games Chicago” movement.

Books will be available for $12.

Please join us at the Northtown Library on Thursday, April 27, from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. for a lively discussion. You’ll also have an opportunity volunteer to work on some initiatives for West Ridge improvement.

 

 

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.