Altgeld Gardens News

by  Editor-In-Chief

I toured the Altgeld Gardens public housing development on the far South Side following the June 20, 2006 Chicago Housing Authority Board of Commissioners meeting after several residents strongly encouraged me to talk to tenants they said had some concerns about their rehabbed units.

My tour guides, current Altgeld resident Gail Jackson and former Altgeld resident Renae Wilkins – who relocated out the public housing development with a housing voucher – led the way and introduced me to several residents who recently moved into refurbished apartments at the site and were concerned about the quality of the construction.

I interviewed several residents who occupied rehabbed units. They all wanted to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from the management company.

Their units problems ranged from a broken bathroom tissue holder to an improperly placed closet sliding door to an improperly placed kitchen counter which the resident dealt with by placing bricks on top to hold the counter down.

The resident of this recently rehabbed apartment in the Altgeld Gardens public housing complex uses two bricks from outside to hold down the improperly placed kitchen countertop left by the CHA contractors hired for reconstruction of many of the old units. Photo by Mary C. Johns

The most outstanding concern was about not being able to bring their washers and dryers into the newly refurbished units. Altgeld residents moving into the rehabbed apartments are forbidden by the CHA to take their washing machines or dryers with them to any of the rehabbed units.

Myrtle Davis, who lived at the public housing site since 1992, said she was happy overall with the newly remodeled three-bedroom unit she moved into this past April with her 14-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter.

She said she had really no complaints other than the unit being smaller in space, having no back doorsome but not all of the rehabbed units have front and back doorsand not being able to bring her washing machine and dryer into the replacement unit, which she said she left in the old unit.

“Other than that, I have no complaints. I just hate that I dont have the washer,” she said.

In response to how she washes her laundry, Davis said, “Sometimes I wash on my hands or go to a friends house.”

During the tour, some residents claimed to have witnessed employees of Altgeld’s management company removing washers and dryers that had been left in residents‘ old units, loading them up on trucks, and taking the machines to unknown destinations.

I spoke to Gertie Smith, who manages Altgeld for the Eastlake Management company, on Sept. 7 to find out whether any of her employees had in fact taken any washers and dryers left by residents in their former units. “That’s a lie,” Smith said. “We have not removed or disposed of anyone’s washing machine and dryer. What has happened in the past is that people who were getting ready to move to the new units, they have disposed of them before they moved, and the residents out here know that. We have not disposed of any. The residents either sold them to somebody or gave them to somebody before they moved.”

Altgeld Gardens Local Advisory Council President Bernadette Williams backed up what Smith said about what happened to washers and dryers that were left in old units.

“No. That’s not true,” Williams said. “Whenever any of the residents moved out, some sold theirs or some just signed waivers that they would leave whatever they wanted in the unit…the management ain’t sold nobody’s stuff.”

I also talked to Williams after the Sept. 13 Tenant Services meeting about the residents‘ concerns about their rehabbed units.

Williams said no one informed her of any problems with their newly rehabbed units after moving in. She added that she had done “a walk through” of rehabbed units with many residents before they moved in.

If anything was wrong with the unit, Williams said the residents usually waited until workers came back and fixed the apartment.

Referring to the woman whose counter top was held down with bricks, Williams said, “But I didn’t see anything like that. So, if something was wrong with her apartment, she shouldn’t have even accepted that apartment when she moved in.”

I also told Williams about the door that appeared to me to be improperly installed. It was off the sliding hinges in one woman’s rehabbed apartment.

Williams said she believed it, “but it wasn’t no major thing,” she said.

Williams wrapped up the interview by saying that she was still speaking with CHA about cable television hook-ups for residents, and she was also waiting to see when CHA would approve the Request for Proposal for the construction of a laundry facility on site.

This long-closed building, located in the midst of the CHAs Altgeld Gardens public housing complex on the far South Side, continues to remain dormant. It was once home to a grocery store and Noomies Laundromat for residents use. Residents are now being bused at the property managment's expense to far distant laundromats to do their families washing. Photo by Mary C. Johns

“That is my main concern, when the facility is going to be built. They said we can’t have them [washers and dryers in the new units]. So when are the new facilities going to be built?” she said.

Currently, every Saturday, Eastlake Management pays for a bus to come and pick up the residents who have moved into the rehabbed units along with others needing their laundry done, according to Williams. She expected a total of seven laundry facilities would be built at the public housing complex in the near future, one for every block of the development.

A few of the residents told me that they have received little help from their elected resident leaders on these issues of concerns. One woman said Altgeld’s Local Advisory Council can’t work effectively for the benefit of the residents because the total resident leadership at Altgeld works for Eastlake Management Company, a construction company doing the rehab work at the development, the CHA and a Service Connector. The resident, who asked that her name not be used, deemed the employment of the resident leaders a conflict of interest.

“The Local Advisory Council president works for Eastlake Management. Debra, our vice president, works for Holabird & Root (which oversees the rehab process). The secretary works for a Service Connector and the treasurer works for CHA as a clerk down in LeClaire Courts. So even when we say the voices of the people are telling them that we are going to fight for the washer and dryer hookups, one of them gets up in the meeting and says, ‘That’s old,”’ the resident said.

Williams, who was the LAC vice president and working for Eastlake Management before she became LAC president, suggested that all residents come to her with any and all complaints or concerns.

“The only people who I see saying that are the people who work with the people who ran against me. A lot of residents do come to me. This is my third term as the LAC president. So the residents voted me in. So, if it was an issue with them, I wouldn’t be in office,” she said.

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