CHA land goes to billionaire’s pro soccer team, despite housing shortage

City officials set to lease 26 acres on Near West Side to Chicago Fire, sparking ire of housing advocates

Joe Mansueto and the Chicago Housing Authority owned land at Roosevelt Road and Ashland Avenue (Getty, Chicago Fire FC, Google Maps)
Joe Mansueto and the Chicago Housing Authority owned land at Roosevelt Road and Ashland Avenue (Getty, Chicago Fire FC, Google Maps)

A tract of housing authority-owned land on the Near West Side, where officials once pledged to replace a demolished public apartment complex, will instead become a practice facility for a professional soccer team, angering housing advocates.

The City Housing Authority is set to lease 26 acres of vacant land on the former site of the ABLA Homes public housing development to the Chicago Fire Football Club, a Major League Soccer franchise owned by billionaire Morningstar founder Joe Mansueto, one of the city’s most influential business leaders, according to a report by ProPublica and WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight.”

The decision comes as more than 30,000 people sit on CHA waiting lists for vouchers or placement in affordable housing.

Thousands of families were forced to move out of the ABLA Homes public housing complex in 2002 as part of what city officials called a longer-term plan to revitalize and redevelop public housing across the city. City and federal leaders said at the time that thousands of units of mixed-income housing would be built to replace the deteriorating complex.

But with that promise largely unfulfilled, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Housing Authority are now planning to lease the largest portion of the land, situated at Roosevelt Road and Ashland Avenue, to the Fire.

“We have an agency… that is supposed to provide housing for the most vulnerable, and instead of building housing they want to give that land to a soccer team,” said Rod Wilson, director of the nonprofit Eugenia Burns Hope Center, an affordable housing advocacy group. “It seems that the CHA wants to get out of the business of providing quality housing for families.”

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

The CHA told ProPublica that the lease agreement with the team would fund repairs to aging ABLA properties and provide jobs.

“That property has been sitting vacant for 20 years and it’s time for us to do something productive with it,” said CHA CEO Tracey Scott, adding that the proposed practice facility is “in line with our philosophy of mixed-use, mixed-income community development.”

It’s not the first time the CHA has allowed its land to be developed for non-housing purposes. It has sold or leased property for a nonprofit tennis academy, a police station and a movie production space, among other things, according to ProPublica.

Marisa Novara, the Lightfoot-appointed commissioner of the city’s Department of Housing, estimated in April that Chicago is short by about 120,000 units of affordable housing.

[ProPublica] – Rachel Herzog