Altgeld Gardens Lawsuit Settlement


Altgeld Gardens residents won a $10.5 million dollar Class Action lawsuit settlement regarding environmental contamination with Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) this past summer.

But unlike most class action lawsuit winners, these residents won’t be receiving their money in the form of a check, according to the attorney who represented the residents in the case. Instead, CHA will keep the money and award the plaintiffs credit toward their rent, according to Cheryl Johnson, President of the People for Community Recovery (PCR) of Altgeld Gardens, and Kim Johnson, Assistant Press Secretary with CHA.

Residents’ Journal spoke with some of the residents involved in the case, and they said they are not happy with the decision that they won’t be receiving payment in the way other successful plaintiffs do. Crystal Dalton, age 35, of 607 E. 131st St., said she heard that the amount to be awarded to each plaintiff is $750. While a friend stood on the sidelines, Dalton said she spent about three years filling out papers, going back and forth to meetings, and answering more than 150 questions concerning the case, and she should at least receive a check for all the time she spent on the case.

Altgeld Gardens resident and litigant Crystal Dalton. Photo by Clemolyn Brinson

S. Jerome Levy, the attorney representing the residents for the case, held a special meeting soon after the decision when he informed the residents of the settlement that the money would go toward paying their rent, Dalton said.

S. Jerome Levy, attorney for Altgeld Garden residents in their class-action lawsuit against CHA. Photo by Clemolyn Brinson

“Mr. Levy came out on his own and we had a meeting,” said Dalton, “and he talked for a while. But when it became time for us to ask questions, it got out of hand. We couldn’t ask too many questions. So he left. We were trying to ask questions because they were talking about giving our money to housing for our rent, and we didn’t want it like that.”

Dalton’s friend, who would not give her name, said, “And people came from all over the city that used to live in Altgeld Gardens for this meeting.”

Levy told former residents of Altgeld Gardens, “if you don’t live out here, [anymore] we’re going to pay off your bills,” according to Dalton.

“We’re not children,” said Dalton. “We went through a lot and we’ve been a lot of places. How can somebody issue your dollars out to you . . . We’re adults, we can pay our own bills, we’ve been paying them all these years.”

Her friend, who has family that lives in Altgeld Gardens, said, “it kind of feels like slavery. We had won the Civil war and we’re still working on the plantation, and you have to give all your money back to the boss just so that you can live there. They don’t want you to go nowhere. They don’t want you to prosper . . . You’re giving the money back to the plantation owners. You don’t even get it.”

“And I’d like to see my money before I give it away,” said Dalton’s friend. “Just because you live in Altgeld Gardens, it doesn’t mean that your time ain’t valuable.”

Resident’s Journal spoke to Bernadette Williams, resident of Altgeld Gardens and president of the Local Advisory Council. She said, “I don’t like the way the lawsuit went. People shouldn’t be told the way that they have to spend their money.”

Cheryl Johnson said that although most of the residents involved in the case are not happy with the way the settlement is to be issued, she understands why it is paid out as credit. She said the residents couldn’t prove their case that their health issues were a direct result of CHA negligence, and that CHA therefore violated the lease agreement by not providing a safe and healthy environment for the residents.

When asked about the plaintiffs who no longer live in Altgeld Gardens but who were affected by the environmental problem, Johnson said those people’s money will go toward paying off what they owe CHA. She said regarding the environmental problem, as far as she knows, CHA did send out a team at least three times to clean up.

Residents’ Journal also spoke with another Altgeld Gardens resident of 28 years, who asked to remain anonymous. He said he also filled out all the necessary paperwork for the case. When asked his opinion of the settlement, he said, “Short term, we won. Long term, we lost.” He said, “The main element was environmental, and we lost. We would’ve won substantially on the environmental side.”

Residents’ Journal also spoke with the attorney for the plaintiffs, S. Jerome Levy. Levy was hired in the summer of 1999 and said that principally the problem was that PCBs were dumped in a storage yard in the middle of Altgeld Gardens, that they had been there for a period of about 20 years, and that PCBs can be hazardous. Levy expressed that in a settlement, usually no one is absolutely happy. He also informed Residents’ Journal that the amount of $750 per person might change to a higher amount. The environmental issue that brought on the lawsuit started in the mid 1970’s with transformers in Altgeld Gardens that had oil in them that contained PCBs, according to CHA’s Kim Johnson. No one was aware of the PCBs until the mid 1980s, and when CHA was made aware of the problem, it was reported to the Environmental Protection Agency, she said. The problem has since been cleaned up, Johnson added. “It took about two or three efforts to make sure it was all cleaned up,” said Johnson.

When asked why the money isn’t going directly to the residents, but instead is going toward rent credit, Johnson said that one of the claims of the residents was that if CHA had known about the contamination of the PCBs they would’ve charged less for rent. So that’s why the settlement award will go toward rent.

Those plaintiffs who no longer live in CHA will have to supply information as to where their rent is paid, and their money will go to that third party, according to Johnson. There were approximately 5,000 plaintiffs in the case.

Johnson said the decision is technically not final yet because the money hasn’t been distributed, but that the rent credit is to cover a 36-month period, and that the attorneys will establish a payment schedule for when and how the money will be allocated; and that half the $10.5 million goes to the attorneys.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Categories: Uncategorized