Clinical Law professor leads students in complex housing initiativeBy Sabrina L. Miller
Through the Law School’s Housing Initiative, students have recently assisted former Cabrini Green public housing residents to close on the first phase of a land and financing deal designed to give tenants greater input in the redevelopment of their North Side neighborhood.
According to the initiative director Jeff Leslie, Associate Clinical Professor in the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic at the Law School, the deal was the first example in Chicago, and one of only a handful nationwide, of public housing residents being empowered as co-developers and owners of revamped models of public housing.
Law students represented the Cabrini Green resident council, who formed a development affiliate and subsequently entered into a unique partnership with two for-profit developers to create the redeveloped community. Construction on the first phase of the project began in October; the project will replace the razed high-rise buildings with 280 mixed-income apartments and town homes, including 72 replacement public housing units. Leslie and many of those law students will celebrate the new development, named Parkside, at a reception on Thursday, Dec. 7.
“It should prove to be a model for empowering residents to have direct input into the operation and management of public housing,” Leslie said.
From tenant selection and management to architectural design, the public housing tenants had an unprecedented level of involvement in the redevelopment deal, Leslie said. At least 18 law students represented former residents in negotiations with developers over the last three years. The students guided the tenants through each step of the process.
“It is unusual for a law school clinic to take on a transaction of this size and degree of complexity, and the fact that our students were able to handle a transaction like this is a testament to just how talented they are,” Leslie said.
Students participated in every aspect of the deal, from reviewing and negotiating documents to working with the city of Chicago and Chicago Housing Authority officials to resolve business issues on behalf of their tenant organization clients. The issues involved with the land deal ranged from arranging financing to advocating for residents on questions of policy and social justice, Leslie said.
“The students had to wrestle with how to balance the financial viability and profitability of the project against the desire to accommodate as many returning public housing tenants as possible,” Leslie said, “including tenants who would need a lot of help in making the transition to a new mixed-income development.”
The Law School’s Housing Initiative, which operates out of the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, was created in 2002 to provide free legal services to individual and community-based housing developers, tenant organizations and others involved in new or rehabilitated affordable housing.