Between A Rock and a Hard Place

by  Assistant Editor

For the last 4 years, a former resident of Robert Taylor Homes, Mary Sistruck, a young single mother of six, has been moved around from slum to slum after receiving a Housing Choice Voucher  formerly known as a Section 8.

I wrote about her in Residents’ Journal’s February 2001 edition. Sistruck once lived in the “Hole,” a notorious cluster of buildings that once towered over the State Street Corridor at 53rd Street. Sistruck described herself as “moving around like cattle” since she received the Housing Choice Voucher. Her children have attended six different schools since her first move.

In a late June interview, Sistruck said, “I wish that I was back in Robert Taylor. At least there I had a roof over my head. I didn’t worry about becoming homeless like I do now.

“Since I’ve moved out into the private market, it has been one big headache after another. My head is constantly spinning. It’s like riding a mental roller coaster with this constant moving every year. “I used to live on 46th Street and Indiana Avenue. It was nice living there. It was right near my children’s old school, right around people that I know, but it burned down.

“All the apartments that I lived in didn’t pass the second inspection, so they abated the rent. “After the apartment on 46th Street burned down, that lead me to 90th and Exchange. By looking at my apartment, it may look beautiful. But as of February 2000, it didn’t pass inspection due to code violations in the basement and in the hallways.

“I’ve been to court off and on since then. As a matter of fact, everyone in the building has to vacate the premises.

“It has been rather hard trying to find a apartment. I’ve looked at over 75 apartments, spent over $325 in application fees, and still wasn’t able to find a place to stay.”

Sistruck called me at the Residents’ Journal office in February. She told me that a friend of hers told her about me, that I was a writer and an activist. She asked me for help. The only help that I could give her at that time was to write about her.

As I continued to write, other women called me with their dilemmas. They told me about their dilemmas and I decided, after listening to them, that I would bring their stories to the attention of Chicago Housing Authority officials. I hosted three meetings about the Housing Choice Vouchers, which I called the “Great Debates about Section 8 on State” at Omega Baptist Church, 4623 S. State St.

At the first meeting on March 26, CHA official Sharon Glenn took notes and listened to the residents’ concerns. At the next meeting on April 5, Glenn came back with the status on the inquiries – a memorandum that reported on what she did for the people who spoke out.

For Mary Sistruck, the memo reads, “Prospective apartment passed inspection on April 3, 2001. Awaiting completion of rent negotiations which should be completed by Thursday, April 5, 2001. I have a copy of her inspection form indicating pass.”

Sistruck signed the lease before looking at the apartment. She continued with her story, “I had to leave and go on a trip the very next day. I was very elated and happy when I heard that news. I thought that my trouble was finally over. But that was short lived.

“After I came back from the trip, I went to see my new apartment. It was unlivable. I don’t know how in the world that place passed inspection. I told Sharon Glenn and we agreed to tear up that lease that I had signed. But that also left me back in the same situation I was in at first, between a rock and a hard place, facing the pavement once again to homelessness.

“The last court date said I had to be out of the building by June 5. So I moved so that I wouldn’t lose my Section 8 housing choice voucher.

“Due to my family helping me find a place, they found me a place at 67th and Green, a community that is infested with drugs and gangs.

“The first day that I moved in, my son almost got shot in our front yard. There was a shoot-out right by my window.

“I’m very much afraid that this place will not pass Section 8 inspection either because it is also a slum.

“Where will residents like me stay?”

I called Sharon Glenn and asked her about large families that have Housing Choice Vouchers. I asked her if the program has a safety net concerning large-sized families like Mary Sistruck, who are finding it quite difficult securing descent housing.

Glenn said, “The same rules apply to families that are large or small when it come to the Section 8 program.

“We are seriously thinking about getting an ombudsman (a middle man) to advocate with the landlords and tenants so that we can begin to combat some of the problems that may occur before it gets to eviction court. As a matter of fact, we received that suggestion from one of your ‘Section 8 Debate’ meetings, so meetings do come in handy. Otherwise, they do help.

“We are also thinking about having mentors from the (FSS) Families Self Sufficiency program come out and talk to the residents. We are also asking families to get involved in this program. Many of the families that went through this program are self-sufficient; it worked for them.

“We don’t have all the answers. That’s why we are asking the residents to get involved, so that we can solve any problem that may arrive together.”

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