CHICAGO — Residents and affordable housing advocates want city leaders to reconsider a plan to build a professional soccer training facility on land once used for public housing.

“We are here today because there is a plan to displace 17,000 people permanently and put in place, a soccer field,” said Don Washington, executive director of the Chicago Housing Initiative Coalition, part of the Coalition to Protect Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) Land.

On Wednesday morning, Washington, other affordable housing advocates and organizations, and community members, including some ABLA residents, met in front of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in The Loop to demand answers and action from the agency.

“HUD has one job; provide housing for low-income people that no market can possibly house, and HUD is not doing that.  Instead, HUD is allowing a multi-billionaire to displace these people permanently at ABLA and that has to stop,” said Washington.

The group said it wants ABLA residents and coalition members to meet with HUD and both mayoral runoff candidates to discuss the deal between the owner of the Chicago Fire Football Club and Mayor Lori Lightfoot and put a stop to it.

“So that we can hammer out a way to keep the public land for the public people,” said Washington. “It’s public land to house people, not make profit for the city. We’re people, not a bunch of profit.”

Advocates argue the community has suffered significantly as a result of the pandemic and said they are seeing a steep rise in eviction filings, so they believe this is a time where Chicago needs more affordable housing for vulnerable residents.

“We beg and pray that the new administration comes in and stands for the people,” said Antwain Miller, housing organizer for the Lugenia Burns Hope Center.

In September, the City Council reversed an earlier vote, approving the proposal to build the new Chicago Fire Football Club training facility on vacant CHA land in the Roosevelt Square area on the Near West Side.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the project is expected to cost between $85 and $90 million and would be entirely privately funded.

The proposed site is bounded by the areas of Roosevelt Road, Ashland Avenue, 14th Street and Loomis Street. The proposal explores using more than two dozen acres of land for the multi-million-dollar facility that would serve as headquarters for and a training center for the Fire.

As part of the long-term lease agreement, the city said the Fire would develop the facility to use for a variety of community benefits and public investments into neighboring public housing sites, long-term employment for community members and recreational opportunities for the youth.

Still, some ABLA residents, coalition members and housing advocates believe, the only thing that needs to be built, is the promised mixed-income housing units.

“What are we saying to our next generation? What are we? saying to these people here today? Do they not matter because they can’t pay $3,000 a month in rent? Do they not matter because they have disabilities and challenges that they face every day? They do, and that’s why we’re here today once again” said Kevin Johnson Jr., lead community organizer with Working Family Solidarity.

According to the group that met Wednesday, the CHA has not met its obligation of returning the replacement housing that Chicago residents were promised. The Coalition to Protect CHA Land said the promise was for 775 public housing units at the ABLA Homes site, but to date, that only 245 have been returned.

“The 10-year transformation plan has been over 20 years long overdue,” said Johnson. “How many times is CHA going to sell the promised land that they promised to these residents? We won’t stand for it and we will be heard.”

ABLA Homes resident Laura Donaldson shared her frustrations and challenges she said she faced in her own search for housing. She became an ABLA resident in 2016, but prior to that, said she was homeless.

“That was my fourth time, finally getting housing. HUD and CHA are so worried about what to do with the land, but it should be used for housing. It should not take a person with a disability so many chances to get housing right the first time,” said Donaldson. “When I first started looking for housing, I was pregnant with my daughter. She’s now 31 years old.”

Donaldson said what she’s endured is not what “accessible, affordable housing looks like.”

“We want to be a part of the community. We should not be isolated because you don’t know what to do with the housing that is there for us. If you don’t know what to do with the housing that is there for us, ask us,” said Donaldson.

According to the coalition, most of the ABLA Homes residents are Black, and advocates argue, the less units CHA returns the less housing is made available for Black people.

“Chicago, you are on the map worldwide as you commit the crime of ethnic cleansing that so many are doing throughout the world,” said Gloria Pearce, a member of the local clergy.

As the fifth floor prepares to welcome a new leader, concerned residents and housing advocates hope mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas will hear their request for a meeting with HUD to talk about this plan and the future of ABLA residents.

“Their position was that they were not gonna allow commercial interests to take more commercial housing. That they were for putting more public housing up,” said Derric Price.

WGN has reached out to the Vallas and Johnson campaigns for comment