Horner Annex Reborn


“You are in the way!” Those words angered many residents like myself who live at the Henry Horner Homes Annex. We sat and listened to former Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) Chairman Vince Lane boast that the residents of the Annex wouldn’t have a choice of where they would live. He intended for the Horner Annex to become a parking lot for the new United Center just across the street. The Annex is swallowed up in parking lots. I am sure that to the owners of the United Center and the yuppies that generally attend games, our building was an eyesore. But fortunately, Lane is no longer here and the Annex is. The Annex is still standing because of the consent decree resulting from a lawsuit against CHA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) being won.

The consent decree gave the Annex residents a choice between revitalization or demolition. The residents were shown scattered site plans and a model of what the apartments could look like if the Annex was rebuilt.

The residents voted by secret ballot and although the vote to stay wasn’t unanimous, enough voted for reconstruction that the rehab started last spring. Those who did not choose to stay were given Section 8 vouchers. Because of the remaining distrust of CHA, residents stayed in the Annex while construction was under way.

The noise at times seemed endless; the stench of tar would make me feel sick and the pathway leading to and from the building was either dusty or muddy.

But the people of Walsh Construction have tried very hard to make the transition go smoothly until the project is completed.

I have lived at the Annex for five years and even though that isn’t nearly as long as most residents, I still know what it was like to live in a one-bedroom apartment with three children.

I was by myself when I applied for public housing. But by the time I received my keys, I was pregnant. I had my oldest son, Kristopherr, a month after I moved in.

And the other two sons that I have, Krischaun and Ke’andre, came shortly after. Yes, we were cramped: us, the roaches and the rats! The Annex’s managers told me that if I wanted a larger apartment, I would be transferred to the Henry Horner high-rises. So I refused.

There wasn’t too much around the Annex. I have often wondered why there isn’t a laundromat around – at least closer than the one on Western. Coming from Madison and Ashland on down to Madison and Damen, there were four stores, three of which were liquor stores. I entertained that question a lot as I bent over in the tub washing my kids’ clothes.

But finally, I began to see light at the end of this dark tunnel. Because recently, the first phase of the Annex was completed and some of the residents moved into their condo-like apartments. They are much brighter and roomy with two restrooms, central air and heating, a modern kitchen and brand-name stoves, refrigerators, washers and dryers.

I know because I recently moved into a three-bedroom apartment. My friends and family are as amazed as I. But my children telling me how much they love their new place is what makes me elated.

I am a clean-aholic and afraid for my children to breath (but they do). I trained them to keep their hands off of the walls and to clean up behind themselves. But that training started in the old apartment.

There is much talk of rescreening the remaining residents who have not moved into their new units. CHA constantly did inspections of the old apartments and kept records. Anyone who didn’t keep up their old apartments should have been evaluated before being given a new unit. Many view this as a tactic to keep CHA residents out of what easily could be market-rate apartments. There was no rescreening when we were living in sub-human conditions.

The other residents living in their temporary apartments know that they have something wonderful to look forward to. That is what Annette Hunt, president of the Annex, exclaimed as she stood outside the Grand Opening of the Horner/West Haven Apartments on May 22.

I asked Annette if she was on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” a few years ago discussing Henry Horner and the terrible living conditions. She said yes, that she and others have been fighting for better living conditions for Horner since 1989, with negotiations with CHA starting in 1990. She said she would like to set an example to CHA residents everywhere.

“If you unite, you can conquer,” she said.

Many things blossomed because of the revitalization project, like the Step-Up program, which allows residents to be trained and to work, possibly helping them remain off welfare. The Homewatch program is also being used. Homewatch provides security in units whose renovation is not complete by letting homeless adults live there temporarily.

But plans are not going to stop at renovation. There is a vision for more programs like senior citizens activities, youth and summer programs, a computer lab and day care for residents of Horner/West Haven.

I have learned through all of this that there really are people who care about their surroundings, like Sarah Ruffin, an Annex resident who says she can’t remember a time when there weren’t roaches to contend with. But because of professional exterminators coming to the Annex, roaches are a pest of the past. And to help it remain that way, Ruffin has applied boric acid in between the walls of 30 new apartments. She says this was not an easy task when the apartments ranged from one to four bedrooms and no pay was involved.

I wonder if people really believe that vandals, gang bangers and drug addicts are all that reside in CHA. Crime, vandalism and drug addiction is a problem even in the suburbs. CHA residents made this revitalization happen, not just Earnest Gates.

I think it is only fair to let the nay-sayers and non-believers think what they want. After all, who really cares what they think. They don’t live here anyway.

A version of this story by the same author appeared in a recent edition of Our Voices, a newsletter for and by the residents of the West Haven community.

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