Churches “Occupy” CHA’s Lathrop Homes on Palm Sunday

The following is the Press Release regarding “Occupy Palm Sunday.”

On Palm Sunday, churches “occupy” CHA’s Lathrop Homes

Tell Mayor Emanuel: “Show us the plan” for North Side units

Over 250 people from area churches and the community gathered at 2029 W. Diversey in the heart of the Julia C. Lathrop Homes on Palm Sunday afternoon as a part of the 5th annual “Occupy Palm Sunday”, waving palm branches, carrying signs and chanting, “Show Us the Plan!” The event, organized by the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance (LSEA), Chicago Housing Initiative (CHI) and Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA), was in protest of Wednesday’s City Council action to approve the rezoning of Lathrop Homes that paves the way for elimination of 525 units of public housing on the historic site.

“Mayor Emanuel and the city of Chicago are taking homes that were set aside for low-income families and giving them to the rich,” Rev. Bruce Ray announced to the crowd. “That ain’t right! Mayor Emanuel needs to show us a plan that will replace those units on the North Side, and he needs to do it now.”

Ray, pastor of Kimball Avenue Church in Logan Square, said that the LSEA has demanded a meeting with the Mayor on Monday, March 21, at 10:00 am, to find a way forward, followed by a press conference. “Families are desperate for affordable housing. And the CHA (Chicago Housing Authority) is sitting on millions of dollars that should be used to provide that housing right here and right now,” Ray added.

Youth from local churches turned over a table covered with play money they called “Rahm Bucks” in a re-enactment of Jesus driving out the money changers in the temple in Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday. “CHA has the money. Why won’t they use it to provide housing?” one youth asked. “That’s what they are supposed to do.”

Participants, including many in wheelchairs, then processed to a vacant unit to hold an extended vigil. Laura Donaldson has been on the CHA’s waiting list for 20 years, but the lack of accessible low-income housing units has forced her to live in shelters. “We don’t need more market rate housing,” she said. “Look around, there are plenty of places people can rent. But low-income people with disabilities are left out in the cold.” Those keeping vigil said they were willing to stay throughout the night to show solidarity with those who have been displaced and have few housing options.

Bishop Wayne Miller of the Metropolitan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) also addressed the crowd. “We are once again witnessing a city government breaking faith. This is no longer a matter of public policy; it is a matter of public morality. There is still time for civic leaders to turn, and to choose a better path,” he said to the applause of the crowd.

In February, under pressure from community leaders, CHA CEO Eugene Jones issued a vaguely-worded letter committing that the CHA would create “525 new housing opportunities” on the North Side.  But the letter offered no specifics on how and when those units would be developed and how they would be funded. “The CHA has a long history of broken promises,” said Leah Levinger, Executive Director of the Chicago Housing Initiative (CHI). “The agency has delivered fewer than half of the replacement units it has promised since 1999, so Jones’ ‘commitment”; is empty,” she added. “Why should we believe the CHA would fulfill this new commitment? We need a plan.”

Referencing Martin Luther King, Jr’s, occupation of a public housing unit for 24 hours on Chicago’s West Side 50 years ago, Rev. Liz Muñoz, pastor of Nuestra Señora De Las Americas, said, “Families are being gentrified out of their communities. The result is the economic and racial re-segregation of the city—especially on the North Side. Lathrop represents stable housing for low income families in a great community, with decent schools, job opportunities, and safe streets, but the Mayor is choosing to take that away from the poor to build housing for the rich. That is completely unjust, and we cannot be silent in the face of injustice.”

The crowd was not silent, picking up the chant once again, “Show Us The Plan!” while 10 people, including Ms. Donaldson, Logan Square pastors and housing advocates, entered a vacant unit, vowing to occupy it for 24 hours.

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