Ickes Leader Challenges CHA CEO

by Mary C. Piemonte 

It is no future at Ickes,” declared Gloria Williams, the resident leader at the Harold Ickes Homes, to Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) CEO Lewis Jordan at the Tenant Services meeting on March 11.

Williams was upset because CHA has been rapidly closing down buildings and emptying out the 738-unit public housing complex without having a formal federal plan to redevelop or rehabilitate the site. “You can steadily put people out,” Williams said. “I just want my people and the people here to know that I did everything I could. But when housing decides to tear your land down…it’s no stopping. I cannot stop them. “It’s not a ‘we’ thing. It’s a CHA thing. I used to be a part of it. Now it’s just a CHA thing,” she added.

Only 95 families remain at Ickes, located on the State Street Corridor between 22nd and 25th streets. Williams speculated that CHA was consolidating buildings at Ickes to create reasons to have the development demolished. Jordan said he would continue to try and work with Williams. He disputed Williams’ speculation that CHA was trying to redevelop the site and turn it into a mixed income development without federal permission. He told Residents’ Journal immediately following the Tenant Service meeting that residents are being moved into consolidated buildings on site strictly for “safety and operational” reasons. “There are currently no plans in place, as I’ve said before to do anything with Ickes,” Jordan said. “The consolidation and closing down buildings is strictly driven by safety and operational costs issues.”

Jordan added that residents initially asked to move out of the public housing complex with Housing Choice Vouchers, into units at other CHA sites, or into consolidated buildings at Ickes. “The residents came to us and said for various reasons that they wanted to exercise their choice of moving,” Jordan said. “In response to the residents who came and said, ‘I don’t feel safe here. I have issues here. I want another housing choice.’ We told them, ‘We’ll give you three choices. You can take a temporary voucher and once we get the redevelopment process started or whatever we’re going to do, you have the right to return.’ That was number one. Number two, we said, ‘You can take a permanent voucher and you can move out and you can go wherever you want to go.’ Number three, we said ‘You can move into a rehabbed public housing development.’ And then number four, we said, ‘You can stay right here.’ “I have a commitment. I have a responsibility to make sure people feel safe and to make sure that the conditions in those buildings are up to par and that’s what we’re doing.” he said.

Jordan confirmed that CHA is planning for some of the vacant buildings to be demolished. “I know at some point the conditions of the empty buildings we feel won’t be, aren’t in a position that we can rehab,” Jordan said. “So the next plan will be to start where there are empty buildings. The long-term plan is to knock those buildings down.” Jordan added that CHA would seek approval from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) before demolishing any of the buildings at Ickes. “Obviously, if we are going to demolish buildings, we have to get HUD’s approval, and we’ll seek HUD’s approval. Today, do we have HUD’s approval? No, we don’t. But are we going to seek HUD’s approval? Yes, we will. As we look at Ickes, empty buildings that are empty right now, we’ll petition HUD to allow us to knock them down,” he said.

The CHA Board recently approved plans to demolish at least three buildings at Ickes, leaving 312 public housing units to be “rehabilitated.” 104 units are planned for rehabilitation in FY2011 and another 104 units planned for rehabilitation in FY2015, according to CHA Board documents.

Williams Rebuts Jordan
Interviewed the day after the tenant services meeting, Williams denied that residents asked CHA to move out of the development. She said residents asked CHA to do something about the out-of-control illegal drug activity at Ickes. CHA chose to clean up the development by closing and consolidating buildings and “dangled” Housing Choice Vouchers to entice them to move.

“Residents asked for him to come down here and do something,” Williams said. “They didn’t ask to move. They asked him to clean up. It would be 200 or 300 dope fiends standing on State Street every day. They were sleeping in our halls at night. “Then (Jordan) started wiggling Section 8s. What do you think people are going to do when they hear Section 8?” Williams, the Local Advisory Council president at Ickes for over 20 years, said she knew about three or four years ago that Ickes would be redeveloped into possibly “three-story walkups” instead of rehabbed because CHA received federal money for redevelopment of the site, which she claimed was used on the Dearborn Homes instead of Ickes. “They had money for redevelopment but they used it in Dearborn Homes. Ickes got money to be redeveloped when they shut those first three buildings down, and they’re using it in Dearborn Homes,” Williams said.

Williams also there was once a working group for Ickes but the man in charge had been fired by the CHA last year. She added that she was also left out of the process when Jordan began having meetings last year to decide what would be done with Ickes. “We had a working group but they weren’t doing anything. So people stopped coming. And then they fired the man that was over the working group,” she explained. “What they want to get done, they do. Before they started tearing buildings down and started deciding when they were going to start taking down buildings, they had their meeting. I wasn’t invited. I have letters that I wrote him in my office concerning the tearing down. He came out to meetings but never gave me nothing in writing,” Williams said.

Williams said she was born and grew up on 36th and State streets and attended a nearby elementary school. She said it didn’t really matter to her whether Ickes was rehabbed or redeveloped as long as the people living there could return. “It could be redeveloped or rehabbed, either one. But I think if these people want to stay here, they should be able to stay here because their roots are here. Their mothers and fathers have died here. Their sisters and brothers,” she said. “To pull these people up and send them somewhere else they never been, it’s a hardship.”

Plan or No Plan?
RJ reported last year that Jordan sought to redevelop Ickes as a mixed-income community just after Mayor Daley chose him to run CHA. “There was a time that we went into Harold Ickes and there were some strong recommendations around a gut rehab,” Jordan said then. “And as we went in and looked and we weighed the cost of rehabbing versus redevelopment, it was clear that it needed to be redeveloped. “I don’t have a specific time-line I can give you, but the long range intent is to do redevelopment…teardown and rebuild with the intent of doing a third a third a third…” Jordan said during a press conference in April 2008.

HUD has yet to approve CHA’s plans to tear down Ickes. Last year, RJ reported that based upon the information provided by CHA, HUD determined that Ickes Homes “are not subject to the requirement to develop and carry out a plan for removal over time from the pubic housing inventory under Section 202 of the VA, HUD and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act of 1996 and its implementing regulations at 24 CFR Part 971.” Other HUD regulations state that after a public housing authority can “identify certain distressed public housing developments that cost more than Section 8 rental assistance and cannot be reasonably revitalized,” then it allows them to demolish.
You can read more about this issue in the RJ article titled “CHA Plans for Ickes Homes Contrary to HUD”at www.wethepeoplemedia.org

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