Last Days At Ogden Courts


I recently moved out of Ogden Courts after living there for 10 years. Ogden Courts consisted of two buildings. Each one was seven stories high and there were 10 apartments on each floor. The one I lived in was 2710 W. Ogden Ave. The second one was 2650 W. Ogden. We lived across the street from Mt. Sinai Hospital.

This building at 2650 W. Ogden Ave. was part of the Chicago Housing Authoritys Ogden Courts public housing complex that was totally demolished in 2005. Photo by Cenabeth Cross

In 1995, I was allowed to move into Ogden Courts after a long wait. I got to know the manager because I had to speak to her on the phone many times. She kept telling me there were problems on the premises that she had to deal with and that therefore, my moving in wasn’t her priority. The harassment stepped up a notch after she met me. But I soon found that she hadn’t picked me out to be mean to. She was that way with everyone. She was, however, the only manager that stayed as long as she did.

Because I was a photographer, the tenants started coming to me to take pictures of their apartments, hoping that I could help in some way. In 1996, I joined the staff of Residents’ Journal. After I wrote about the children that had lead poisoning in their system, a specially equipped truck came to the parking lot with staff to test all the children. The board of health came by a couple of times as well.

I got to know most of the tenants personally. We were like a family. We had to help each other out. We all got together to talk about moving. After complaining for such a long time and getting no service, most of us were happy to hear this news, but we were also afraid. We heard some horrible stories of the people who had moved before us from other projects, like the Robert Taylor Homes. I assured my friend Ruby Davis that we had to believe that whatever happened, it would be better than this. Ruby and I talked all the time, almost every day.

The building was always having problems. The heat, the water, mice and roaches, and the elevator. The elevator was broken more days than it ever worked. We all stayed in our apartments most of the time because the lobby was always full of drug dealers 24/7. The management had evicted quite a few families after they put the One Strike policy into effect. One Strike states that whenever someone was arrested for selling drugs in the building, the entire family could be thrown out.

Despite the problems, some residents couldn’t stand to leave Ogden Courts. A friend of Ruby’s, an older lady named Evelyn Cole, had lived there, like Ruby, most of her life. She had lived there when it was a “nice place,” as Ruby would always tell me Ogden Courts once was. Evelyn told Ruby that a friend of hers took the news of the building’s closure in a very different way. She was so upset that she took a chair and climbed up on it to throw her leg out of the window. As Evelyn attempted to grab her, she threw herself out of the fifth floor window, hit the concrete pavement and died.

Our first notice came on February 22, 2005. The letter, mailed to each of us, came from the Chicago Housing Authority. It said that Ogden Courts was closing and that we had only 90 days to vacate. We had meetings when they explained the procedures we would have to follow and where we could get help. The last meeting was at Mt. Sinai Hospital, at 2653 W. Ogden Ave., on March 29, 2005,

In attendance was Duwain Bailey, CHA’s director of operations, Janet Abrahams, director of asset management, Sharon Glenn, director of housing choice vouchers (section 8), Rayne Martin, director of relocation, and Jerlean Paul-Maggitt, West Side Future, one of the firms contracted for CHA’s Service Connector program. They told us if we had any legal questions, we could contact one of two attorneys: Nicki Bazer or Renai Rodney, members of the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago.

The move went pretty fast. They had workers take each one of us to view three apartments. When we found the one we liked, they sent a moving truck to pick up all the furniture, hauled it to our new place, and placed it where ever we told them. During the closure of the building, some of the residents had to have their furniture carried down the stairs because the elevators failed – as usual.

I was shown two houses. I told the driver that I didn’t need to see any more. I had fallen in love with the first one I saw. Sean L. Drumgoole, our property manager at this time, was a lot of help to many of the female residents. But I was short changed with my security deposit when I went to the office July 6 to pick it up.

While I was in the office, my friend Jessie came to me with her story about the extra rent they were charging her, and told me about the bill she had received from Commonwealth-Edison, the electric utility. Both bills were inaccurate, and she couldn’t find any of the people who swore they could help us with everything. CHA officials had told the both of us that if we needed lawyers, we could talk to one. This I found to be false because when I tried to get one, they refused. One of the legal clinics wanted to charge me $30 just to talk to me.

The day I moved, May 4, I was told by the movers that I had to catch the bus. One of the movers that was upstairs with me during the entire move talked about God and how the world was fine, and how it was the people in it that made things so bad. He never moved one box or piece of furniture and he was sitting in one of the chairs on the gallery when I left the building. The mover told me to ask the driver if I could ride in the front with him. He also told me that I would have to give him “something.” Since I had nothing to give him, I locked up, went and borrowed some carfare, and left before they did.

My new apartment seems like heaven to me. The apartment is on the first floor and it took me a while to get used to staying there at night. There was no one else in the building at the time. This took me back to the time in my life before I moved into Ogden Courts. I moved into public housing after I became “homeless.”

Before I became “homeless,” I was buying a house that looked almost just like my new place. There is a back yard and a full lot on the side for the children. The tenants who in moved upstairs have two youngsters.

My friend Ruby got a little house. As luck would have it, she lives within walking distance from me. Now I call that an act of God.

I’ve been at my apartment a year already. The only problem I currently have is that I have to walk at least four blocks to public transportation for the bus or the ‘el’ train.

I thought I would complain but when I thought about it, I realized that it is a great form of exercise. After a year, my thighs have tightened up a bit. I breathe a lot better too. Everyone needs exercise.

Soon after I moved, a service connector from the Metropolitan Family Services, located in the South Chicago Center, at 3062 E 91st Street, came to my home to find out if I needed any help since relocation. My worker’s name is Christi Chandler. She assists with getting the landlord to do the required unit repairs and the return of security deposits, getting CHA relocatees’ utility bills paid, job searches, school enrollment and help for drug problems. The service connectors also teach you to own your own home and offer many other services to help make relocation easier to bear.

Everything seemed like it was going well. But some people told me to be cautious about writing that the relocation was a success for everyone. A few insinuated that the Section 8 program isn’t working as well as expected.

On April 21, 2006, I read an article that caught my attention. The article, “CHA Aiming at Section 8,” by Antonio Olivo, a Tribune staff reporter, states that over the last 16 months, the Chicago Housing Authority has stopped paying Section 8 landlords for failing to bring their houses up to code. They have stopped payments to landlords who repeatedly fail to make the necessary repairs.

CHA officials said they are the toughest guidelines in the nation. Lead paint, rotting porches and bad plumbing are the biggest problems. They’re refusing landlords who have homes in a block with more than three vacant lots, or three boarded up houses. If they find that the drug traffic is too heavy, they can refuse to pay the landlord.

My service connector also hinted that people who are in Section 8 homes may not be there for long. They have to find employment, the ones that are employable. The people who can’t find work may find themselves homeless. Employment is a hard thing to find for us, even if we’re not ex-cons or addicts. It sounds like the number of foster kids will be on the rise again. The children are the ones who really suffer.

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