Subsidized housing complex south of campus changes hands

After years of struggling to preserve their federally subsidized housing, tenants of Grove Parc Plaza Apartments are hoping to keep their residency secure.

By Kelin Hall

After years of struggling to preserve their federally subsidized housing, tenants of Grove Parc Plaza Apartments are hoping to keep their residency secure.

In late December, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) granted ownership of the housing complex just south of the Midway to the Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH), the nation’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving affordable housing. The change in ownership marks a victory for a number of organizations that sought to keep the apartments open after HUD declared them legally uninhabitable after an inspection in February 2006. POAH has submitted a preliminary redevelopment plan to HUD, but the final arrangement is still under negotiation.

POAH’s redevelopment plan would preserve all subsidized housing and add both affordable and market-priced units, according to a POAH representative. It would result in the demolition of some units while allowing residents either to move within the complex or receive vouchers to move elsewhere. By the end of the process, every unit will have been torn down and replaced.

Dan Burke, head of POAH’s Chicago-area office, said that POAH is working with HUD to assure that those who were temporarily relocated could return to the complex after redevelopment, if they so choose.

He added that though it’s common for low-income tenants to organize to preserve affordable housing, the Grove Parc Tenants Association is a “dynamic organization, really a leading example.”

Cynthia Ashley, secretary for the Grove Parc Tenants Association and a board member of Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP), said that HUD was initially hesitant to accept the plan. “POAH had the tenants behind them, and there’s nothing like the power of the people. HUD tried everything, but we just kept fighting, and eventually they just caved.”

The tenant association and POAH are in regular contact. “We know they’re for real now,” said Ashley, who has lived in the complex for 14 years.

“It’s the first time the ownership and management have let us sit at the same table with them. It’s pretty neat, I have to say,” Ashley said.

Under the previous, private owners, the Woodlawn Preservation and Investment Corporation (WPIC), the property deteriorated, allowing holes in walls and windows, rat and roach infestations, and plumbing to be backed up with sewage, leading to its failing HUD inspections.

HUD recommended foreclosure and demolition of all of the complex’s 504 units and suggested that its residents be given vouchers to move elsewhere, but tenants marched on the University of Chicago, formed a human chain around the complex, held a sit-in at the HUD offices downtown, and connected with politicians and allies across the country to protest a plan they feared would leave them stranded.

When tenants are given vouchers to move out of a foreclosed building, they must use them within 180 days and pay their own utility bills, leaving tenants with poor credit scores who are inelligible for utility contracts with nowhere to go.

After researching their options, Grove Parc Tenants Association, STOP, and the Shriver Center for Poverty Law, who legally represent them, reached out to Boston-based POAH, requesting that they take over management of the complex.

“They have a long history of preserving affordable housing,” Ashley said, “and they’re a nonprofit. Real estate developers will just take your money. POAH’s not in it for that.”