Dear Resident

by  

I don’t know about you, but I feel as if I’m looking down the barrel of a loaded summer. In addition to the usual challenges that we face as public housing residents, it is apparent this summer, more than ever before, that we face a new challenge: the redevelopment of public housing.

This redevelopment process started over eight years ago under then-CHA Chairman Vincent Lane, with a federal program titled Hope VI, suggesting the arrival of hope for the hopeless residents of public housing. Today, the process has simply become the redevelopment of public housing and is moving at a much faster pace, offering little hope for too few residents.

To be politically correct (believing that language and practices that could offend sensibilities as to sex and race, but in this case housing, should be eliminated), the redevelopment of public housing in Chicago is really gentrification.

Gentrification is the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying an influx of middle class or affluent (rich) people into deteriorating areas (public housing) that often displaces earlier, usually poor residents (us).

To be factually correct, the redevelopment can be compared to what was done to the American Indians. Remember, according to the government, they did not own their homes and were moved from the open plains of America to reservations, a tract of public land set aside for use by American Indians, according to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. This was done, of course, in their, the American Indians’, best interest.

To be emotionally correct, I fear that many of us will be moved from what has been called the concrete reservation to the open plains of homelessness if we fail to adjust to a new environment. It will be a new environment of mixed races, incomes and expectations, none of which we have had to deal with before, especially in redevelopment areas like Cabrini-Green and ABLA Homes.

To be simply correct, we are in the way. So now, in our best interest, of course, they will save us from what we have endured for too long. Now the inequity (injustice, unfairness) of public housing can be seen. Now there’s a lottery to determine which residents will move in to newly developed or redeveloped units set aside, again, just for public housing residents.

From hope to nope for most of us. What a difference the correct information and eight years can make&

Dear Resident,

The above is how this edition’s column originally began. But no sooner than I had written these words did a letter regarding the redevelopment come down the barrel, via the U.S. Mail, the very same day.

This letter is the first formal information from CHA sent to each resident regarding the waiting list for new units in the Cabrini-Green Hope VI Area, replacement housing and demolition. The letter also explains about priority families (families that will be housed first), eligibility requirements, deferral of families for good cause, work requirements, temporary housing until new units become available, the lottery process and the lottery interest inquiry form to be returned by July 2.

The letter states that residents have to return the enclosed form by July 2 to be entered into a lottery for replacement CHA and affordable units in the Cabrini-Green HOPE VI area. The letter defines that area as being bordered by Chicago Avenue to the south, Wells Street on the east, North Avenue on the north, and the Chicago River on the west. Forms received after July 2 will be put at the bottom of the lottery list in the order in which they were received. No response will be considered a lack of interest in the lottery.

I returned my form in the envelope enclosed with the letter, sent a copy certified mail, delivered a copy to CHA headquarters at 626 W. Jackson, and kept a copy for my files. I’m not taking any chances. The above column was based primarily on a combination of bits and pieces, read and heard, but more on my feelings as a resident having served on the Local Advisory Council, as it was revived because Hope VI could not begin without input from the residents. But surprisingly, the content of the letter is in keeping with the original Hope VI proposal designed to improve the quality of life for public housing residents by relocating them to mixed-income communities.

The Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Council held city, state and federal feet to the fire by filing a lawsuit against CHA and CEO Terry Peterson, the City of Chicago and Mayor Richard M. Daley. In September 2000, a consent decree was reached allowing the city to proceed with redevelopment. Believe me, had it not been for the members of the Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Council, we would probably have been scattered to the four winds long ago.

Mr. Lane and the Blue Suits that followed him had no idea that they were going to be in for the fight of their careers. Mr. Lane and countless others who sought to expedite our removal have come and gone and were still here.

To the Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Council, thank you for a job well done! Thank you for protecting the best interest Cabrini-Green families.

To be honestly correct, I imagine that, like myself, many of us have, at one time or another, longed to leave behind the difficulties associated with living in Chicago’s projects. Long no more. Prepare. Do what you need to do to be successful wherever this redevelopment may find you.

Because if you don’t, there will be no place to return to. Many who have left in the past were not successful. They found the same difficulties in other communities or realized the benefits, yes the benefits, of living in public housing.

In Cabrini-Green, many of us realized years ago that if we could just hold on, we, too, would benefit from the urban development of Chicago. But benefiting from the redevelopment will become surviving the redevelopment for many.

We must realize that we can not continue to live as we have past, in public housing developments without mixed races, without mixed incomes, without clear expectations and rules that must be followed. The letter states that “The CHA replacement housing and affordable units will be in private developments. Selection requirements and house rules may be different from one development to another.”

If we, and our children, do not follow the “house rules,” we may well be evicted and find ourselves homeless. HOMELESS.

The letter further states, “The redevelopment and production of the CHA replacement housing and affordable units will take several years. It may take a few years before it is your turn at receiving a replacement unit.”

The Local Advisory Council has done all that they can do. They held on and did what they had to do to ensure our best interest. And now we must do the same. We must hold on, prepare and do what is in our best interest.

On a personal note, there are many residents who worked hard to ensure and many who looked forward to living in a redeveloped community that are no longer with us: Marion, Shirley and Mr. Sims, just to name a few. And just recently, Bette.

Like myself, Bette was not born here, but she did grow up here, raise her family here and love here. Bette will be missed here.

Hang in there.

– Pat

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