Members of both Bethel Mennonite Community Church and the Working Family Solidarity organization hold a prayer vigil for “Justice at ABLA Homes” on in Chicago on July 20, 2023. Credit: Alex Wroblewski/Block Club Chicago

NEAR WEST SIDE — Two decades ago, Chicago Housing Authority leaders announced plans to replace apartments the agency demolished on the Near West Side with more than 2,400 new homes.

That may never happen, a federal judge acknowledged Friday, but it doesn’t mean housing advocates can stop the CHA from turning over vacant land to a pro sports team.

In a 13-page opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas M. Durkin dismissed a lawsuit attempting to block the CHA’s land deal with the Chicago Fire soccer team. The housing advocates who filed the suit didn’t show they were hurt or impacted by the deal, Durkin concluded. Because they lack “standing,” the suit had to be dismissed, he ruled.

“True, the Court cannot be certain that CHA will fulfill its promises,” Durkin wrote. “But that is the point. The potential of harm or benefit here is entirely speculative. Speculation cannot establish standing.”

The case involves 23 acres on the Near West Side that was once part of the massive ABLA Homes development. The CHA agreed to lease the land, at Roosevelt Road and Ashland Avenue, for 40 years or more. In return, the Fire will pay at least $30 million and possibly much more.

But the deal has touched off a broader political battle over the CHA’s practice of selling off land while the city struggles with rising homelessness and a shortage of affordable housing. More than 50,000 people are on the CHA’s waiting lists for apartments or rental assistance. 

Bronzeville and Chinatown neighborhood leaders similarly have blasted the CHA for inking a deal with Chicago Public Schools to sell part of the former Harold Ickes Homes — which was already being redeveloped into housing — to make room for a $150 million Near South Side community high school.

READ MORE: Records Raise Questions On CPS Transparency Over Near South Side High School Plan

Mayor Brandon Johnson vowed on the campaign trail to put a stop to the CHA’s land selloffs. Since taking office in May, he has been mum on the issue, with spokespeople saying he couldn’t comment on the CHA lawsuit while it was pending in court.

Johnson still won’t break his silence with the suit dismissed. A spokesperson for the mayor declined to comment to Block Club on the judge’s ruling or on the future of the CHA. 

Members of both Bethel Mennonite Community Church and the Working Family Solidarity organization hold a prayer vigil for “Justice at ABLA Homes” on in Chicago on July 20, 2023. Credit: Alex Wroblewski/Block Club Chicago

The ABLA Homes once included about 3,600 units, but the CHA razed most of the development as part of the agency’s Plan for Transformation. It then announced plans for 2,441 new and rehabbed homes at ABLA, which it renamed Roosevelt Square.

But fewer than half of those homes have been built, and the property at Roosevelt Road and Ashland Avenue was left to sit empty. 

In 2021, Chicago Fire owner Joe Mansueto, a billionaire business leader, approached the city in search of land where the team could build a new training facility. Officials under then-Mayor Lori Lightfoot offered the ABLA site — and worked to finalize a deal before she left office

The deal effectively ended the CHA’s two-decade-old plans to redevelop the property with mixed-income housing. Instead, agency leaders said they will build hundreds of new homes in denser spaces in the surrounding neighborhood. And the agency’s CEO, Tracey Scott, said proceeds from the deal will be used to preserve existing housing.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development approved the deal in March. 

In June, a coalition of housing advocacy groups and public housing residents sued the CHA and HUD, alleging the deal violated civil rights laws. They argued federal officials never conducted a formal review to ensure the agreement met requirements to expand opportunities for Black, low-income and disabled residents.

For its defense, the CHA hired outside counsel from the prominent firm Winston & Strawn. The CHA agreed to pay $700 an hour for each lawyer and $375 an hour for paralegals, according to their contract. The CHA’s total bill was not available yet when Block Club asked.

Activists from the Chicago Housing Initiative, the Lugenia Burns Hope Center and other groups discuss their lawsuit to stop the CHA’s land deal with the Chicago Fire soccer team after a court hearing on Sept. 6, 2023. Credit: Mick Dumke/Block Club Chicago

At a September court hearing, Durkin appeared skeptical that the advocates could show they had standing to challenge the deal. But he also urged attorneys for HUD and the CHA to consider undertaking a civil rights review.

In the weeks that followed, lawyers for the parties held confidential discussions but never reached an agreement, according to court records and attorneys. The full civil rights review was never conducted.

Durkin then granted motions by the CHA and HUD to dismiss the case.

Though the CHA is years behind on its commitments, “the Court cannot force the CHA to fulfill its prior plans to develop more housing units on ABLA land,” the judge wrote.

And while it’s possible the CHA won’t follow through on its latest commitments, that’s “far too speculative” to claim the advocates have been harmed by the Fire deal.

“In the end, Plaintiffs’ objections stem from a philosophical difference — rather than a legal injury — as to how CHA manages its vacant land,” Durkin wrote.

CHA officials praised the decision, saying it would fund their work at preserving and expanding housing options “for years to come.” 

Work is underway on the land that the Chicago Housing Authority leased to the Chicago Fire soccer team to build a new practice facility. Credit: Curtis Lawrence/Block Club Chicago

“CHA welcomes this ruling as the carefully negotiated partnership with the Chicago Fire invests in families residing in CHA housing and the broader Near West Side community,” the agency said in a written statement.

Advocates said they were disappointed but remain intent on holding the CHA to its promises and fighting for more housing.

“The legal team is looking at other avenues, the organizing team is looking at other avenues,” said Roderick Wilson, executive director of the Lugenia Burns Hope Center, one of the groups that filed the suit. “We haven’t given up.”

Help Block Club Get
500 More Subscribers!

Subscribe to Block Club now and you’ll get a free 16-by-20-inch Chicago neighborhood print of your choice, helping us reach our goal of getting 500 more subscribers before 2024. Click here to subscribe or click here to gift a subscription.

Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: