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.

 

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.

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?

 

A Tale of Three Surveys

Three community input surveys about library usage, needs, and desires are currently available online; two are specific to the new Northtown Library, and one is addressed to all library users.

The LEARN Survey
LEARN is the West Ridge coalition that was formed because the community was unable to secure a new library even though the existing library is woefully out of date. LEARN obtained 2,500 signatures on a petition for a new library and presented that petition to the alderman. In February 2017, LEARN launched its online survey, asking West Ridge residents about how they use the library and what they’d like to see improved, added, and eliminated from current services.

Nearly 400 people have responded so far. Not surprisingly, 67% of respondents requested an increase in library hours, with the same number seeing improvement in library offerings as critical. The numbers also indicate widespread support (more than 50% of respondents) for a variety of children’s programming, including arts and crafts; materials that reflect the uncommon diversity of the 50th Ward; computer and technology improvements; and creating a children’s reading area.

Strong needs for more parking and for bicycle racks were also expressed.

Respondents listed as first priorities large-print books, improved technology, an outdoor reading area, Braille books and talking books and movies, separate areas for children and teens so they don’t disturb adult patrons, programs that would bridge age and cultural gaps, more new books, and better-trained staff and librarians.

Many users felt that a wider selection of books was most important, while others stressed the need for a wider variety of children’s books, ESL programming, Arabic-language books, and a dog-friendly area for special reading programs.

The LEARN survey is ongoing.

The Chicago Coalition of Friends of the Library Groups
An exciting new citywide coalition comprised of all the City’s Friends of the Library groups, this organization is the brainchild of Kang Chiu, longtime president of the Friends of the Rogers Park Library. Kang’s leadership led to the creation of the “new” Rogers Park Library on Clark Street at Farwell Avenue; that building replaced a library as outmoded as Northtown’s. The vision for the Coalition of Friends is to help organize Friends groups throughout the City and create a cooperative environment through which such groups could work together on areas of common interest and support one another through partnerships and experience-sharing. The Coalition of Friends’ groups survey was launched in January 2017.

So far, more than 675 responses have been submitted, with 97% of respondents indicating they used the library; more than 95% have library cards. Nearly 50% said they use the Sulzer Library, the Harold Washington Library, and the Library Web site in addition to branch libraries, with more than 70% stating that they use the library on a weekly or monthly basis. An equal number say their visits last an hour or less, but a quarter of all library users say they stay two to four hours per visit.

While at the library, more than half of respondents say they read books and magazines or request holds for library materials. Roughly one-third of all library users request help finding materials, and nearly as many use the free wi-fi service. More than 20% of visitors are attending community meetings or attending workshops and seminars. More than 15% of library users are there to use the free computers, the copiers or scanners, or the audio-visual materials. Almost as many come to the library for children’s story times, to participate in reading or discussion groups, or to attend musical or theatrical performances. Ten percent of users can be found in the study rooms or attending meet-ups for hobbies or using digital content.

Most library users indicated in this survey that they would like to have more books and magazines available, more workshops to continue lifelong learning, more book discussion groups, and, as with the LEARN survey, longer hours. Other users suggested more workshops on health and financial planning as well as homework help.

Most respondents wanted to see library hours increased to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. More than half of all respondents said they would use the library more if it were open longer hours.

Finally, more than half of all respondents would join a Friends of the Library group if one were available.

The Coalition of Friends’ survey is active through the end of April.

Alderman Silverstein’s Survey
The alderman released her survey March 17. She describes the response as “fantastic” but has not released any details yet.

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.

 

 

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” 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 info@50thwardchicago.com, or call her at 773/262-1050.