Dear Resident


Patricia Johnson-Gordon


Dear Resident,

If you are familiar with the above “greeting,” you know its origin. If you are a resident of “CHA” and not familiar with the above “greeting,” you could be placing your “continued occupancy” in jeopardy. For as we all know, ignorance is not an acceptable excuse. “Dear Resident” letters are sent to us by CHA to communicate with and notify us of various “changes” within the Authority. These letters are usually included in the envelope with our rent statement and without a doubt, will or should have an affect of some degree on us and our families. After more than two decades of ineffective management, poor resident representation and an apathetic resident population, there is a move to redevelop public housing, not only in Chicago but throughout the United States. For that reason, it is important that you become familiar with this “greeting.”

I have a file marked “CHA.” In this file, I keep all correspondence from and to CHA, written and verbal (I record date, time, the person I spoke with and the response), rent receipts (Recently, I had to produce three years worth of canceled checks to prove that rent had been paid!?!) and other important information. I would like to suggest that you do the same. Reading such correspondence, along with your lease, will inform you of your rights and responsibilities necessary to protect those rights.

The move to redevelop public housing is swift. There have been many changes and some improvements but the most important change must be resident involvement and responsibility. I know that we did not come to the point that we are at today alone. Years of poor federal, state, city and housing authority management, requiring no resident responsibility, society’s devaluing of public housing and its residents, changes in the family structure, moral decay and time have taken their toll on all of us. We are disheartened, marked and scarred by society’s attitude and some of the events that have taken place in our public housing communities. But take heart in knowing that crime, drugs, child abuse and the other ills that plague society are not indigenous to public housing. They happen everywhere, leaving those that they touch disheartened, marked and scarred, too. We have no control over such things. However, we must use what control we have to determine our future, the future of public housing families in Chicago. We must take control of ourselves, leadership of our families and ownership of our communities. Being responsible for ourselves, our children and our behavior.

It is inconceivable to me that we all do not want a nice place to live but somehow believe that public housing cannot be that place. Some even choose homelessness over public housing. But those of us who have been here for 40+ years know that it once was a nice place to live and grow; a place where residents were held accountable for themselves, their children and their behavior. Not only by CHA but by all of society, as was everyone…once upon a time.

Public housing in Chicago has seen many changes over the years. On the legislative side, the most significant change was the removal of the rent ceiling, which forced most of the two- parent, working families to move. But the most important change has been the shift in our attitude and behavior toward where we live and how we live here. Unfortunately, we have been conditioned to believe that we must “escape” from public housing instead of endeavoring to “change” it. But with the closing of the Section 8 program and people standing together to block the establishment of any public housing units in their communities, “escape” from public housing has become virtually impossible. And sadly, due to the changing economy, it has become increasingly difficult for poorly skilled working families to step up and out of public housing. Therefore, most moves out of public housing are lateral, usually placing families in communities that have many of the same problems as public housing. So now our problems and concerns are “horizontal” instead of “vertical.”

According to society, public housing must be the worst place you could possibly live and again, unfortunately, whatever society values or devalues “at large,” all value or devalue. And so many of us, never having ventured outside of our public housing communities, believe that it is the worst place that you could possibly live. I cannot speak with regard to other developments because I live in only one, Cabrini-Green, and as infamous as we are, I have been in worse places. My community is a family of clans. We are like a small town. Everybody knows everybody or somebody who knows them. I believe that’s the reason why many of us who grew up here remain here and some of us who moved out moved back. Almost all of us who grew up here visit the local establishments when they are in Chicago just to get together and see how everybody’s doing. There is a lot of family and community support here. And like a family, we squabble a lot but we are protective of each other. We have grown up together, raised our children together and buried our parents together. And now, we are helping to raise our grandchildren together. We have done a lot of living here and we still have a lot of living to do. I hope that we will continue to do it together as a community. Because when we weigh the advantages against the disadvantages, this is the place we “choose” to call HOME.

The “development” of public housing in Chicago has failed. That is not to say that it has never had any measure of success because it has. However, in some instances, it is no longer feasible, has become obsolete and must change. We, too, must change. Change is inevitable. But change can also be an opportunity. We must take advantage of this opportunity lest we find ourselves five years from now with a rent voucher in hand searching for some place for our families to live. Unless there is a drastic change in the public housing high-rise developments, the government has decreed that they be demolished in five years. If public housing provided no other security, it guaranteed that we would have a place to live. That guarantee is going… going…GONE. The “redevelopment” of public housing in Chicago must not fail. As for me, I am determined to be a part of that redevelopment because it will affect my family and all the families of public housing more than any other part of society.

This publication is a part of the “redevelopment” and an opportunity for public housing residents to become informed, empowered and involved. Here we can network, supporting one another, sharing the best of our communities to make others better. We must turn our attention to ourselves, writing history instead of reading history. My father told me that all a poor man has is his word and if his word is no good, he has nothing. Take the lead, call your children to your side, give them your word and promise them a better tomorrow. Together, if we are willing to work very hard, we can deliver on that promise.

Here at Residents’ Journal we have become a family. We invite your family to join our family. We want to be entertaining as well as informative. We seek to be a publication that you will look forward to receiving because it is for residents, by residents, about residents. We want to hear from all of our public housing family. If you have a need we don’t meet, please let us know. If you have a question, we will try to find the answer. If there is something you would like to say or share, send it to us. We especially look forward to hearing from our young adults and children. We would like you to have a column of your own. I believe that each and every one of us have a God-given talent. Please share your talent with us. So, put pen to paper and let us hear from you and your family. Together we can do it! And this publication can bring us together.


And just to get the ball rolling, I’d like to share a poem I wrote with you.


What has happened to my people?

Did we survive being hunted, captured and shipped like animals across the sea?

What has happened to my people??

Did we survive being bought and sold?

The hot sun and the master’s whip?

What has happened to my people???

Did we survive being set free, in a world in which we were owned?

What has happened to my people????

Did we survive the fight for equality and win? Only to become slaves again, to white powder instead of white men?

What has happened to my people?


Until next time… that’s all she wrote.

P.S. – If you want to know how I found out about this publication, there was a notice in the envelope with the rent statement.


Pat (Patricia Johnson-Gordon)

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