Harold L. Ickes Homes News


The lives of Harold Ickes’ residents were disrupted when three buildings out of the remaining 11 were ordered to be vacated of their tenants.

The remaining residents of a building in the Harold L. Ickes Homes move, leaving the three buildings of the 2400 South State St block vacant.
Photo by Jacqueline Thompson

Families moved daily for three months. In the final days, pressure was put on the few remaining families to go, and eventually, no one lived in the three buildings in the 2400 block of South State Street.

As tenants vacate their units, more homeless people and drug addicts become daily inhabitants of the outdoor benches and terraces of the Harold L. Ickes Homes.
Photo by Jacqueline Thompson

Meanwhile, the rest of the development began to suffer an ebb and flow of humanity as more and more homeless and what appear to be drug addicts became daily inhabitants of the outdoor benched terraces, indoor stairwells and hallways in Harold Ickes. Residents from the remaining occupied buildings snatched up their Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers and fled in a stream of escape from the undesirable living conditions. The sudden sense of loss and separation from long-time friends and neighbors left an emptiness hard to accept by those of us still living here.

Lewis Jordan, the new CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority, speaking in the fall of 2008 at the Harold L. Ickes Homes to dispel rumors that Ickes would be closing.
Photo by Mary C. Johns

These physical changes at Harold Ickes influenced the day-to-day patrolling duties of the Chicago Police Department. One major change was that police officers used new methods of people control.

The practice of officers filling out ‘contact cards,’ forms with personal information on them, and making arrests for trespassing at random became a huge upset to an already disturbed community. Many legal residents were stopped in error and forced to experience the humiliation of being handcuffed and arrested in front of their neighbors. Some former residents returning to see family still living in Ickes were stopped, asked for information for a contact card, and sometimes arrested because they had rap sheets. Many friends that were visiting residents were mistreated in the same manner.

Aaron Boyd, a 34 year old man who grew up in Ickes and works at Henry Booth House with the community’s youth, took the brave step of inviting the Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow Push Coalition into our midst. Boyd hoped Jackson’s visit and the accompanying mass media coverage would produce better treatment of residents by police. Jackson and the Coalition exhibited true interest in our plight by providing a lawyer for those who had suffered false arrests, making many on-site visits, talking to the young adult residents, holding several news conferences and supplying large gifts of food.

One such news conference included Dr. Leon Finny Jr., the executive director of the Woodlawn Corporation (TWO), which manages Ickes. Their collaboration stimulated a discussion of plans to create after-school, recreational and educational programs for the youth in our development. These programs were planned to take place in the now empty large building that has class rooms, offices and a gymnasium but is empty of all furniture, educational materials and gymnastic equipment. CHA emptied out the building when the center was vandalized beyond recognition. As of this deadline date, no arrests have made of the culprits.

The bright light of Jackson’s presence at Harold Ickes soon dimmed, however. With more than six months since his visit, the residents have heard no more about any plans that were aired at that meeting.

I received an opportunity to interview Tamara Holder, the lawyer provided by Jackson and the Rainbow Push Coalition for residents who were caught in the web of new police tactics for people control.

Residents’ Journal: Has there been a Class Action Suit filed on behalf of the residents of Harold Ickes concerning police harassment with contact cards and trespassing?

Tamara Holder: Yes. The suit was filed for many based on the contact cards, only after the trespass cases had been solved and thrown out of court. About five more people have trespassing cases pending in court and once they are done, there will be a separate class action suit filed for them.

RJ: Can you tell from your experience in court with the residents whether or not the City is sympathetic or apathetic about the residents’ complaints?

TH: I think they are disinterested in the issue because the CPD is part of the City of Chicago and an extension of it. If they were sympathetic, they would make the officers cease and dismiss these practices.

RJ: It is a known fact that there are a lot of homeless people in and around Ickes and sometimes at night they are raided whilst sleeping in the halls and are arrested for it. What are your feelings about the City’s role in servicing the homeless population? Do you know if the City addresses the situation in any way?

TH: The city’s condo housing has protection from illegal entry by guards at the front doors. You can’t get in without a key or a key card. The residents of public housing should be protected from strangers or non-residents too. They have just as much right as others. Homeless people need homes. Chicago has made no provisions for them. Public housing is sort of a back door shelter. Anybody can come in, defecate, urinate, vomit and trash the place.

RJ: Are you in touch with clients of other developments for the same or similar incidents of harassment, trespassing or arrests?

TH: No. I only know that the Cabrini Green development has a community activist group that is addressing resident treatment from CPD.

New CHA Rules
On top of all the unrest and uncertainty about continued occupancy at Harold Ickes, we and all the other tenants of public housing developments and scattered site housing received letters to pick up a 48-page Amended and Restated Moving to Work Agreement between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Chicago Housing Authority. Residents were given 29 days to read, decipher, decode and guess the legal written changes that may affect the lives of over 20,000 lease holders and their families. Plus, the letter urged us to be ready to comment on the whole document.

In order to understand some of the residents’ responses to this new agreement, I visited some and talked with them about the document:

Residents’ Journal: Do you know about the new 48-page Amended and Restated Moving to Work document that all residents should get from their management office?

Jackie Jemison: Yes. But I was recovering from surgery and I couldn’t get down to get one.

RJ: In one part, it mentions that there may be a limit for how long a family can live in public housing. What do you think of that?

JJ: I don’t think it would be fair because a person’s status is subject to change, which would change their evaluation.

RJ: Do you know the difference between a Section 8 and a Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) and living in public housing?

JJ: I think so. With a Section 8, you have two years to find a place in the private sector. In public housing, so far, it’s unlimited.

RJ: If CHA succeeds in changing to limited occupancy, how do you think new residents can make it?

JJ: A new applicant may not be prepared to accept a specified time limit to live within housing.

RJ: How do you feel knowing that CHA may establish a rule for limited occupancy?

JJ: I feel insecure now. They are constantly coming up short of funds to fix things or to cover promised services. I’m worried about what they are going to do to Ickes, redevelop or tear it down or what.

When I spoke to Laverne Hamm, she expressed some concerns of just what the document really was telling the residents.

Laverne Hamm: You know, I really don’t know what it’s all about. I’m going to the second open meeting next week to see if I can get some sense out of it.

After I read a portion of the document out loud to her, she said.

LH: I’m listening to what you’re saying but I still don’t understand what it’s all about. I don’t know what’s going on.

I talked to Gloria Williams, (Local Advisory Council) president, and she says you can get a HCV any time. Right now, I just don’t know. There are too many conflicting rumors going around.

When I visited Melissa Manning, she attacked the document squarely on the first page because of the legal terminology.

RJ: When you got your copy of the ARMWA document, could you read it with understanding?

Melissa Manning: I think the words the residents were supposed to read are overly complicated. Who knows what “whereas” over and over means? It needs research and study to understand what “section 9(e)(1)” means, and what Act so and so, etc. is all about. Where is there a copy of the 1937 Act for comparison reading? At one time, I typed for a lawyer. This reading is for highly educated individuals. I did attend the meeting with some of the other residents held by attorney Robert D. Whitfield and even he agreed that those of us who were there should try and help our neighbors and seniors understand just what it’s all about.

CHA Comments on Plans for Ickes
Next I called CHA spokesperson Brian Zises, hoping to get some straight answers from some straight questions.

Residents Journal: What are they going to do with, about and/or for Ickes?

Brian Zises: We haven’t made a decision yet.

RJ: Well the residents want and need to know because they’re unsettled.

BZ: I would hope that the residents would have a part in the decision. The best part would be to redevelop if the money can be found.

RJ: Is there anything I can write to ease the deep sense of confusion between rehab and redevelopment among the residents?

BZ: Everyone has the option of moving into a rehabbed apartment in another development or they can make the decision to take an HCV if they are so unhappy where they are.

RJ: Many seniors I spoke to have no desire to move into a smaller unit in a strange neighborhood. What chances do you think they have to live in the same way when they move?

BZ: They would be very pleased with the newly rehabbed senior housing. Many of the senior buildings were totally gutted and renewed with new kitchens, bathrooms and one bedroom apartments. Four hundred million dollars was spent on the whole rehabilitation project for the senior housing. I think they should take some time to go and view some of the new work that has been done.

RJ: Looking at the ARMWA document on page 42 of 48 item 20, I noticed that based upon the information provided by CHA, HUD had determined that Dearborn Homes and Cabrini Rowhouses are not subject to the requirement to redevelop and carry out a plan for removal over time from the public housing inventory under Section 202 of the VA, HUD and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act of 1996 and its implementing regulations at 24 CFR Part 971. The Trumbull, Altgeld Murray, and Harold Ickes Homes developments are also not subject to Section 202. This statement leads me to understand that Harold Ickes Homes residents should not be in doubt about what will happen to their homes. Already, Trumbull and Altgeld Murray have been rehabilitated and residency is being offered by CHA. What is the truth about the future of Ickes? We read one thing, which is a legal document, and told another. What is the answer, please?

At this point in our interview, Zises advised me that he did not have information about exactly how item 20 on page 42 of the above mentioned document affected the future of Ickes. At the meeting for all residents from all developments, held at the South Shore County Club, I asked the new CEO of CHA, Lewis Jordan, what were the plans for Ickes. His answer was, “We’re looking at long term redevelopment for Ickes, long term.”

Then I asked him would he come to Ickes and talk to the residents and he said, “Yes. I will come to Ickes and talk to the residents.”

It was with welcome relief that Jordan fulfilled his promise to come to Ickes and meet with the few remaining residents to dissipate the most unsettling rumors about their living status. He brought with him Alderman Pat Dowell and Gloria Seabrook, a special assistant for resident services at CHA.

Our own LAC president, Gloria Williams, welcomed our guests and encouraged the leaseholders to come forth with the most pressing questions concerning the future. With that said, she also cautioned them not “to act like you don’t care.”

Jordan began by looking at a list of “serious rumors” that are not true. First of all, Ickes is not closing in the fall of 2008. Then he explained why when he referred to the future of Ickes, he talked about a “long-term redevelopment.”

“When I first came out to look at Ickes to determine what should happen here, it appears that with the conditions of the buildings, it would cost too much to rehab them. It would be more to our benefit to redevelop in the long term. Jordan then informed the residents that they would soon receive appointment letters to come into the office to discuss with a staff member other housing possibilities such as our housing choices, our family make up and how far CHA is going to assist us in relocating, when the time comes. Jordan also said they would have an opportunity to view our housing choices from the past.

Then the question of time limits for occupancy came to the floor. Jordan said that even though it was a possible choice for them to insert into a lease agreement, CHA is not considering using it now.

The most important caution, however, was that when we receive a letter and do not reply, nothing will happen for us.

The meeting was interrupted by a few angry residents who had strong opinions about management, LAC contact and other personally overwhelming experiences. Jordan calmly invited them to come and sit down with him and talk about the issue to see how it can be resolved.

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