Cabrini Row House Tenants Prepare to Fight CHA


Residents and their supporters protest in the Cabrini-Green Row Houses in June 2010. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

Tenants of the Cabrini Green Row-Houses are preparing to battle the Chicago Housing Authority for “reneging” on their promise to rehab all remaining units at the North Side public housing complex.

The final high-rise in Cabrini-Green was demolished this past spring, but 534 low-rise units remain in the complex. In 2008, CHA received approval from the federal government to rehab the row houses. However, only 146 units were rehabbed in 2009, leaving 438 units in disrepair, with a great majority left vacant. Only 33 of those are currently occupied, “creating a 92% vacancy rate,” according to the CHA, which announced late last week that it will not continue rehabilitation and will instead boot out the remaining public housing tenants in the non-rehabbed section of the row houses. CHA claimed that “persistent criminal activity” in the area “forces” them to make the tenants relocate elsewhere.

“Significant resources have been put towards maintaining the safety of the property, but in spite of these efforts, based on the current data, it was determined that the old sections of the Rowhouses were dangerous and no longer suitable for residents,” CHA stated in a Sept. 1 press release. “A recent incident involving illegal firearms and many other recent arrests for narcotics trafficking ultimately drove this decision to close this section of the property.”

But residents of the Cabrini Row Houses did not accept CHA’s analysis. Many former and current tenants noted that residents who moved out of the Cabrini Row-Houses were promised a right to return to a rehabbed unit there if they chose. And they signed binding Residents’ Relocation agreements with the CHA to that effect.

“What about the crime in other places?” asked Joann Hollie, a former member of the tenants’ Local Advisory Council, during an on-site interview the day after CHA’s announcement.

A current image of row-houses in the Cabrini-Green development on Cambridge Street that have not been rehabbed. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

Hollie moved to the Cabrini Row Houses in 1976, and now lives in a new public housing unit in a mixed-income high-rise building on Kingsbury Street near the former Cabrini-Green site. Like other residents interviewed that day, Hollie said CHA was just using the security issue as an excuse for not renovating all the row houses.

“I used to be a LAC member, and I was there when they promised that the row houses were going to be rehabbed. And they were going to be 100 percent public housing. Now, they reneged on their promise. It’s like a back door meeting, and everybody is caught with their hands in the cookie jar. They’re trying to say there’s violence over here? But, it’s violence everywhere you go. You can turn on the news every morning, the South Side and the West Side, people are getting killed.

“People are getting killed over there in Bronzeville. Are they going to close that down? They are finding bodies in the lagoon over there in Humboldt Park. Are they going to close Humboldt Park down?

“They are paying the police money to patrol, then they need to be patrolling. In which they are not doing,” Hollie said.

If the Row House tenants fight CHA’s decision, Hollie said she would rally with them: “If they don’t stand up for their rights, then they’re going to fall for anything.”

Other tenants and their representatives said they would not accept CHA’s change of plans for the row houses.

“They’re violating the contract,” said Raymond McDonald, a representative for the Cabrini Row House tenants for the past year. “We’re going to fight it until the end.”

Rehab work on the Cabrini-Green row houses in May 2009. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

McDonald, who lives in one of the previously rehabbed Row Houses, added that the 33 legal tenants and their families shouldn’t be “pushed out.”

McDonald said the area around the Row Houses was a safe place to live, and that the CHA is just trying to get people to move under a false pretense of any serious crime.

“They are picking up people for trespassing. Is that a security concern to you? It doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.

McDonald added that he was concerned people would become homeless as a result of closing the row houses.

“What are they going to make the people move out for if they are not going to rehab them? You already got a lot of homeless people. If you rehab them, a lot of homeless people will have a place to live. Why let them just rot?”

Tenants’ Attorney Challenges CHA

In a Sept. 4, 2011, e-mail to CHA and other officials, attorney Robert Whitfield commented that the CHA’s recent actions are being “inconsistent” and “at odds with numerous written commitments made over the years by CHA officials, to rehabilitate the Cabrini Row Houses.”

In the e-mail provided to Residents’ Journal, Whitfield, the lawyer for the tenants’ Central Advisory Council, stated that according to the CHA’s agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Cabrini Row Houses “are not subject to the requirement to develop and carry out a plan for the removal over time from the public housing inventory.”

The CHA was also required to “expeditiously” take steps so that substantially “all vacancies” at the Cabrini Row Houses can be brought on line, according to Whitfield.

“CHA’s actions from at least 2003 through the present, and more specifically from June 2008 to the present, have not been consistent with the language…indicating CHA would ‘expeditiously’ move to bring all vacancies at the Cabrini Row Houses on line.” Whitfield wrote.

“The actions of CHA this week are also not consistent with written commitments made in numerous CHA Annual Plans from 2003 through 2009. CHA has, by its recent actions, created a situation that may remove any options for the possible rehabilitation of the Row Houses. This property is almost 70 years old, and the continuous delays by CHA will only increase the likelihood that the decaying conditions of these units will preclude rehabilitation, leaving demolition as the only option,” he added.

Whitfield said the CHA should immediately meet with the Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Council (LAC) and “quickly negotiate a plan for the resumption of the rehabilitation of the Cabrini Row Houses.”

CHA Explains

CHA didn’t respond to Residents’ Journal about this and other questions by the time of this report. However, in their press release, interim CHA CEO Carlos Ponce said, “The levels and nature of criminal activity continue to pose a real threat to the residents of the area, but it is a particularly disturbing threat due to the significant number of children in the old section of Rowhouses. This Authority must do what’s right and vacate the property. CHA will take great care in making the transition as smooth and as comfortable as possible for the remaining families.”

Ponce said that over the last year, CHA has been working with the families living in the non-rehabbed Rowhouses to find alternate housing, including newly rehabbed row houses nearby. He added, “CHA will continue to help the remaining families understand their relocation options: either moving to a public housing unit in a new mixed-income or rehabilitated public housing community; or accepting a Housing Choice Voucher, which would allow them to move into an apartment owned by a private landlord anywhere in Chicago.”

All families are expected to receive relocation assistance that includes housing counseling and moving services, and all lease compliant families can choose to return to the Cabrini area once a decision on the future of the property is made, according to the CHA press release.

“Once vacated, the site will be secured and the Working Group composed of community residents, community stakeholders and CHA will immediately convene to discuss future plans for the site,” CHA’s release states.


Residents’ Journal previous coverage of the Cabrini Row Houses can be found here:

The CHA is holding a public comment period for their proposed 2012 Moving to Work Annual Plan — which includes its plans for the Cabrini-Green Row Houses — on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011, at 6 p.m. at the CHA Administrative Offices, 60 E. Van Buren Street, 9th Floor.

For more information on how to submit comments via mail, email or fax, from Wednesday, Aug. 31 through Friday, Sept. 30, visit the CHA website at:

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