Mayoral Candidates Views about Chicago Public Housing


Tenants wondering what will happen to their homes and communities got a chance to question three of the candidates running to succeed Mayor Richard M. Daley during the Mayoral Forum on Public Housing at the Chicago Cultural Center last month.

National Public Housing Museum Keith McGee and the museum's national spokesperson Bern Nadette Stanis, also known as "Thelma" on the Good Time television series, thanking everyone for attending the mayoral forum. Photo by Mary C. Johns

At the forum, sponsored by the National Public Housing Museum in collaboration with the tenants’ Central Advisory Council, City Clerk Miguel Del Valle, Patricia Van Pelt Watkins and Bill “Dock” Walls each discussed their plans for public housing.

“As the infamous high rises fade from the city’s skyline, public housing in Chicago is still a vibrant and necessary topic,” museum officials wrote in materials for the forum.

All of Chicago’s public housing high-rises have been evacuated and most have been demolished under the Chicago Housing Authority’s 10-year-old Plan for Transformation. The Plan set out to replace the high-rises with mixed-income communities, though it is years behind schedule at this point.

The purpose of the forum, according to museum Executive Director Keith L. Magee, was “to ensure affordable, subsidized, and public housing to be a significant part of (the candidates’) agenda” and to hear how they would balance the budget with the Plan for Transformation.

Each of the three candidates who attended the forum also talked about how their community experiences created and shaped their personal plans for transformation during the event, which was moderated by Bern Nadette Stanis, an actress who was known as “Thelma” on the “Good Times” television show. Stanis is the national spokesperson for the museum.

Tenants, Journalists, and Residents’ Questions Candidates about CHA Plan
The CHA plan was initially supposed to be five years and then was lengthened to 10 years and recently extended for another five years.

As one of the panelists questioning the candidates, Myra King, president of the Trumbull Lowden development and also president of the Central Advisory Council as well as a board member of the CHA, asked the candidates what they thought prevented the CHA Plan from being accomplished in the initial timeframe?

William “Doc” Walls, a long-time activist, said, “They didn’t have sufficient social services in place.”

Patricia Van Pelt Watkins, the founder and former director of the Target Area Development Corp., said it was “a lack of political will,” and the economy which prevented the CHA plan from being accomplished as first planned.

Miguel Del Valle, the City Clerk, agreed with Watkins and added that there is reluctance on the CHA’s part to provide mixed-income housing and scattered site public housing in general. He added that the CHA plan also needed to be revised.

Residents' Journal Publisher Ethan Michaeli, asking the candidates what they would do to fill up all the vacant land space, along the former State Street corridor, where the CHA Stateway Gardens and Robert Taylor Homes, once stood. Photo by Mary C. Johns

In response to the question of what they would suggest the CHA change to its plan in the next five years, Walls said tenants should have more said in the overall CHA Plan, or “You’re just going to have empty neighborhoods, and they’ll never be communities where people learn to work with each other and interact with one another and engage one another.”

Watkins, who developed supportive housing for families during her tenure at the Target Area Development Corp., agreed with Walls that people need to be more engaged in the decision-making process about things for their own neighborhoods.

Del Valle said there needs to be a “real plan” in which the CHA has got to “follow through and make it happen.”
“Otherwise, tenants lose faith in the process,” he said.

We The People Media Executive Director/Publisher Ethan Michaeli, another of the panelists, asked the candidates went on whether they would consider changing the mix of what a mixed-income community consists of.

All of the candidates present said they would delay additional demolitions and rehab remaining public housing units targeted to be torn down until the economy turns around and the for-sale housing market improves.

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