Getting to Know Rockwell

by  Assistant Editor

I recently investigated Rockwell Gardens, a 17-acre public housing development on Chicago’s West Side. In my quest to get to know Rockwell, I learned a lot about this family development.

Built in 1961, Rockwell Gardens housed 1,126 units of public housing before redevelopment began recently and it is just three miles from the Loop. When completed, the redeveloped site will house 823 units, 264 of which will be public housing, according to Chicago Housing Authority representatives.

I spoke to two Rockwell residents from 1936 W. Washington St. about the redevelopment process and the idea of building mixed-income communities at the former sites of family public housing developments. Both are due to be relocated.

“I think it’s pretty nice, relocating into new mixed-income communities,” said Eugene Coger. “It will work for some of the residents.”

“It will probably be a balance,” Coger added. “Some Rockwell residents will fit in, and some won’t!”

“It’s only good if everybody that’s already here receives new housing, but first they should train the current residents how to do housekeeping,” said Rockwell resident Michael Barnes. “because if they don’t you will have what you had in the beginning.”

I called Rockwell Local Advisory Council President Mary Baldwin to ask her about the CHA redevelopment process in her neck of the woods.

Her secretary gave me a message that Baldwin would return my call, but was unable to talk to me by RJ press time due to a death in her family.

Before the redevelopment will be complete, officials will have to overcome more than just the dilapidated high-rises. Such issues as gangs and drugs will also have to be addressed.

The clearing of the high rises is underway but so is the clearing of the drugs and gangs, according to Commander Lorenzo Davis, head of the Chicago Police Department’s public housing division.

On Tuesday, December 9, Davis and his men, along with officers from the 11th District, conducted a sting they called Operation Travelers Blues, named after the Traveling Vice Lords, a local street gang with a strong presence at Rockwell, according to Davis.

Davis said 42 gang members were identified as involved in a profitable drug-selling business prior to the sting and that 27 of them were successfully apprehended.

“The operation went rather well in Rockwell– we arrested 27 of the 42 people that are allegedly involved, and we are looking for the rest,” Davis said. “This drug operation was pulling in at least $75,000 a day.”

I later called CHA spokesperson Jennifer Chhatlani to get information on Rockwell’s redevelopment plans.

Funding for the redevelopment includes a $35 million HOPE VI grant from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development, Chhatlani said, which has helped fund the demolition of four buildings already, with a fifth currently in the teardown process. Three buildings remain standing, she added, housing 206 families. Of the 180 families that have moved, 136 moved temporarily into the subsidized rental market with Housing Choice Vouchers; 11 more selected permanent vouchers, giving up the chance to return to the redeveloped, mixed-income community that will replace Rockwell; and 44 families moved to other developments, Chhatlani said.

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