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Deal To Lease Public Housing Land To Chicago Fire Soccer Team Violated Civil Rights, Groups Allege In Lawsuit

The lawsuit alleges local and federal housing officials didn't conduct a proper civil rights review ahead of the controversial deal.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Fire owner Joe Mansueto, CHA CEO Tracey Scott and Deputy Mayor Samir Mayekar at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Chicago Fire on the Near West Side.
Melody Mercado/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — A coalition of community groups has filed a federal lawsuit over a deal to turn public housing land into a professional soccer training facility.

The lawsuit against the Chicago Housing Authority, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge alleges the sale of about 23-acres of land on the Near West Side — which had long been promised for new housing — instead went for the soccer facility “without a transparent process or adherence to civil rights laws.”

In April, leaders of the Chicago Fire professional soccer team, flanked by city officials, broke ground on the site bounded by Roosevelt Road, Ashland Avenue, 14th Street and Loomis Street. The land was once part of the Addams, Brooks, Loomis and Abbott developments, together known as the ABLA Homes.

The lawsuit alleges the the Chicago Housing Authority and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development “skipped necessary steps” for a civil rights review, a process that determines whether the sale is nondiscriminatory and complies with fair housing and civil rights laws.

Instead, the city and federal agencies “wanted to rush to close this deal before Mayor Lori Lightfoot was out of office,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit references a $25,000 campaign donation Lightfoot received from Fire owner and local billionaire Joe Mansueto after the city granted key zoning approval for the development. That followed an unusual do-over of a City Council committee vote when the zoning change initially failed to muster enough support.

The claim that federal officials failed to conduct a proper civil rights review is especially relevant because of Chicago’s “affordable housing crisis, which disproportionately affects low-income Black families and people with disabilities,” according to a statement from groups behind the lawsuit. The coalition presented federal housing officials with “an analysis” of those impacts prior to its approval of the deal, according to the statement.

Credit: Melody Mercado/Block Club Chicago
Housing advocates protest the incoming Chicago Fire training center on the Near West Side.

Spokespeople for the Chicago Housing Authority, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the mayor’s office all said they would not comment on pending litigation.

A Chicago Fire spokesperson also declined to comment, instead sharing a previous statement promising the new soccer facility will establish youth sports programming, create jobs for community members and provide the city with lease payments to invest in nearby housing and community spaces.

Community groups involved with the lawsuit added in their filing that their voices were iced out as local and federal housing officials finalized the deal behind closed doors. In March, community members vowed to continue the fight for affordable housing on the former ABLA Homes site even after the deal received key federal approval.

The suit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Chicago by the Coalition to Protect CHA Land, the Chicago Housing Initiative and the Lugenia Burns Hope Center.

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A rendering of the Chicago Fire soccer facility being developed.

“CHA should be creating new housing for the thousands of families in need in Chicago,” Kate Walz, associate director of litigation of the National Housing Law Project, said in the statement. “But instead they gave up valuable public land to a billionaire and his soccer team.”

Rod Wilson, executive director of the Lugenia Burns Hope Center, said in the statement that he hopes this latest action “begins some accountability with CHA and HUD.”

“It’s a shame that in order to get the government to work for low-income working families, we have to sue,” Wilson said.

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