CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s been nearly 20 years in the making, but construction is finally underway for more than 1,100 new and rehabbed housing units near the Chicago River.

“We never thought this day would come,” said Gene Jones, CEO of Chicago Housing Authority. “CHA kept the promise, did we not?” he laughed.

“A lot of people said we wouldn’t be here. It was quite a process to get where we are today. We could not be more proud. Lathrop is a reflection of everyone’s input, including Lathrop residents, community members, preservation agencies, area homeowners, business owners and the CHA — and City of Chicago,” Jones said.

Chicago’s Lathrop Homes renovation plan is finally on its way to becoming a reality. (Photo: Lisa Fielding/WBBM)

Many of the buildings have been abandoned and boarded up for years. It’s welcome news for neighbors, nearby business owners and housing activists who have been fighting for months for the redevelopment project.

Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp says the Lathrop project has been a long time coming.

“Housing is foundational for us to have strong communities and neighborhoods. And without our strong neighborhoods and communities, we cannot be, and will not be, the world class city that we strive to be. This is so important — what’s happening here. The work that has been done, the perseverance,” said Zopp.

The new housing project will replace the Lathrop Homes. (Photo: Lisa Fielding/WBBM)

The first phase of the project will include 414 new or rehabbed housing units, including 151 public housing units, 101 affordable and 162 market rate rental units. The work includes the preservation of 16 existing buildings, the construction of one new building, the installation of a new river walk and the renewal of Lathrop’s iconic “Great Lawn.”

The Julia C. Lathrop Homes project will see the demolition of existing buildings and new construction on the site south of Diversey Parkway. 16 original buildings north of Diversey will be preserved and renovated. In all, the project will bring a total of 1,116 housing units to the historic Riverfront neighborhood.

“This is a major step forward for all the folks at Lathrop. We are excited and we consider it a real milestone, and we know it’s just the beginning,” said Audra Hamernik, Executive Director of the Illinois Housing Development Authority.

“We never thought this day would come.” (Photo: Lisa Fielding/WBBM)

“This will offer homes with new opportunities for every kind of household. Whether it’s former residents of Lathrop, or those who qualify for affordable rents or for those families renting at market rents.” Hamernik said.

When the Lathrop Homes were built in 1938, there were more than 900 public housing units across 32 acres bordered by the North Branch of the Chicago River, Clybourn, Diversey Parkway, and Damen avenues. It was the one of the first Chicago housing projects, and the largest complex on the city’s North Side. Lathrop Homes was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

In July 2006, the Chicago Housing Authority announced its intention to demolish the Lathrop Homes and redevelop the site.

This has been nearly 20 years of discussions and delays in the making. (Photo: Lisa Fielding/WBBM)

In early 2011, the authority cleared residents from the North end of the development. In Oct. 2012, the Chicago Housing Authority approved the demolition of 1,800 units, including some from Lathrop Homes.

The redevelopment project will be completed in phases over several years.