Harold Ickes Homes Update

by Jacqueline Thompson 

The Harold Ickes public housing development is one of the last to go through change under the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation, now in its 10th year. All around the city, renovation and rehabilitation has brightened up the city’s neighborhoods. New architecture both outside and inside has replaced decades-old buildings with outdated floor plans and replacement housing for residents of CHA who are eligible for the Right to Return. As a long-time resident of Ickes, the most often question I am asked is, “What are ‘they’ going to do with Ickes?” And further, “Are ‘they’ going to tear down, rehabilitate or redevelop?” My answer is, “I don’t know.” I have inquired of persons in high places, and so far, the latest answer has been, “Nothing has been determined yet.” That was from Matthew Aguilar, CHA spokesperson. Aguilar did promise to inquire further and get back to me. I wait patiently.

I tried to check with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD published that “Harold Ickes was not subject to demolition.” But I was unable to speak directly to anyone. Even after many referrals from one individual to another, I still couldn’t get an answer. I wait patiently. As I continued to wait, I was drawn to CHA document FY2009, Moving to Work Annual Plan for Transformation Year 10. In it, on page 55, I found that Harold Ickes comes under the “Properties to be Redeveloped or Rehabilitated” section:

“Bullet 1: Although there are no finalized plans for redevelopment/rehabilitation of Harold Ickes Homes, in FY2009 the CHA will continue to evaluate alternative methods for revitalization both internally and with resident leadership. “Bullet 2: When complete, Harold Ickes Homes will contain 312 public housing units by FY2015.”
All the above may just be the final answer, but when did HUD sanction the change from “no demolition to redevelop” to “maybe redevelop or rehabilitate?” Now this is what I would like to know. In mid year 2008, when CHA CEO Louis Jordan kept his promise to speak to the residents of Ickes, we all left the meeting feeling reassured that Ickes was not to close during the fall of 2008. “However, soon we would receive letters to come to the office to discuss other housing possibilities such as our housing choices, etc., and assist us in relocating when the time comes.” We may have overlooked those last few words, “when the time comes,” because it did come with a bang. The month before Christmas, we had another meeting with Jordan. This time, he explained that “Ickes is going into a consolidation phase. Three more buildings are to be closed and the residents are to be moved into vacant apartments within Ickes until they relocate to their housing choices become available.

“You will be given 30 days to pack and move,” he said. Two weeks before Christmas, we got our moving dates. It was in the midst of the cold of winter, and there was no chance of developing the annual neighborliness of the Christmas spirit, within our own homes or within the community. The one thing that stood out at the last meeting with Jordan was when he said, “When the consolidation takes place, there will be a new security system put in place and you should all feel more secure and safe from all the drug traffic.” That brought a bigger question to mind from all the residents present who, like myself, want to know why it took so long to address the human tsunami of drug users coming in and out day and night. Why were the plans not forthcoming when the combination of unattended building deterioration, plus illegal drug trafficking and unsuccessful policing, made Ickes an island of pressure, stress and disgust? It was 24/7. Urine up and down the stairwells and hallways. Human feces waiting daily for hard-working janitors. Residents having to skip over sleeping homeless people. We could have been spared this much sooner. Memories have a way of lingering. Once the hammer hit, and moving dates came, suddenly the human tsunami reversed and no one could see the usual 300 people standing around, going in and out, up and down. They were GONE!! Just like that. Miracles do happen. The last consolidation date was Jan. 23 for most people. However, on Jan. 18, a company of construction workers came into the three remaining occupied buildings and conducted an overhaul of the front and back entryways. In the front, the glass brick walls were reduced to two rows at the top. Regular cinder blocks filled in the rest, creating a plain wall facing the outdoors. New panic locks were added to already ‘new’ doors, front and back.

The work went on steadily. After we attended a meeting with management and the asset management team to learn of new house rules, which included leaseholder and family ID photos and visitor rules, we came home to newly painted red entry doors and signs on the outside warning that IDs would be required for entry. The work continued until new security desks were put in place. Walls were decorated down to the eye-appealing fuchsia wall stripping near the floor. Floods of police and Security took over the exterior and interior of the three buildings. How long, did I ask before? Ten to 14 days, at the most. Safe at last, while residents are steadily relocating to newly ‘renovated’ or ‘redeveloped’ homes.

So, in view of the most recent happenings at Harold Ickes, everybody’s guess is as good as mine in answer to the big question, “What are ‘they’ going to do with Ickes?”
Athleticism Ranks On Top At NTA

In February, state Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) went to the National Teachers Academy, which is adjacent to Ickes, to personally congratulate, applaud and award the First Place citywide football team and their outstanding coaches with gifts of personal certificates to each participant, along with a photographed plaque, a running back trophy and a huge bouquet of long-stemmed roses. Hunter explained her role as state senator and how the job connects her to the federal government, down to the very neighborhood their school is part of. The senator’s educational and encouraging talk gave the team members insight as to what a career in public office such as hers would be like. She promised the team and coaches that they would be invited to spend a day in Springfield later in the year, going around the capitol and experiencing a day in the life of public service. In their first year of playing citywide, the National Teachers Academy’s football team rose to the top of their game with the winning score of 20-1 to defeat the reigning city champions, Dodge Academy. When their basketball team became a part of the physical education curriculum with the focus on student self-control, development and good attendance, the students began fully participating, getting good grades, showing good conduct at all times and having good athletic skills. These were the qualities that were purposefully being instilled in each team member by the unique team of concerned school male employees whose titles did not exclude them from working faithfully together to create a winning team of male students. Their successful path as a basketball team came to the attention of the Academy for Urban School Leadership, who came to the school and invited them to join their fall 2008 annual football league. “The acceptance of the invitation created an abrupt start physically, mentally, socially and spiritually to the ‘infant’ football team,” said Aaron O’Neill, gym teacher. The three-week preparation period involved getting uniforms, learning new game rules, tactics, practicing and acquiring a new attitude about sportsmanship. Coaches O’Neill and Nehemiah Daniel, Marc Ousley, Joe Ramis and Chris Barberis molded the boys into first-class players, working with the young men weekdays and weekends. The results were nine games played, seven in the regular season, with a loss of two. The team gained a position in the final playoffs and beat both teams to whom they’d lost earlier to clinch first place. Congratulations NTA!!!!!

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