CHICAGO — Community members are fighting back, even as construction starts on a new Chicago Fire FC soccer team training facility.

At issue is 25 acres of public land on the Near West Side, owned by the Chicago Housing Authority, once part of the ABLA Homes demolished years ago.

In recent months, the CHA leased the land to the Chicago Fire FC soccer club as part of a 40-year agreement to develop a new practice facility. Fire FC paid $8 million upfront with an annual graduated fee to be paid down the line.

The Fire FC reached a deal with former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in the closing months of her time in office. But a coalition of community-based groups filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday saying the city broke a promise to redevelop 775 public housing units on the site.

The group filing suit said only 245 units have been constructed. On Wednesday, the case goes before a federal judge.

The coalition to nix the planned development rallied outside the Dirksen Federal Courthouse on Tuesday, Sept. 5. Backers of the suit said the CHA’s number of public housing units that should be available to city residents is drastically undercounted.

“CHA is 19,000 plus units under their limit,” said Roderick Wilson, the Hope Center Foundation of Chicago executive director. “New York is only 10,000.”

The lawsuit alleges the deal reached by the CHA and approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development violated its own rules. The coalition said the development comes at a time when there is a growing need for affordable public housing in an area that has seen gentrification with longtime community residents being forced out of their homes.

“Their real plan was to get rid of hundreds of Black people out of their community. We’re not stupid to the fact, but you know they gave us a false promise of hope,” said Etta Davis of the Dearborn Homes Local Advisory Council.

A spokesman for the Chicago Fire FC declined to comment on the lawsuit but did speak to what the training center’s development will offer the community:

  • The initial $8 million already paid to the city will go to rehabilitating and preserving nearby CHA housing and creating indoor and outdoor community spaces. 
  • Providing long-term employment for community members, internship and mentorship programs, resources for minority and women-owned businesses, free sports programming for youth, and more.

On the campaign trail, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson said he opposed any private development of any sort of public housing land.