New Vincennes Plaza

by  Assistant Editor

I am sure many of our readers remember the story I wrote about Vincennes Plaza in the August 2000 edition.

Vincennes Plaza is a development that stands in the shadow of the new Lou Rawls Cultural Center on the dusty trails of 47th Street, also known as Tobacco Road.

Vincennes Plaza consists of 59 units of low-income housing in a five-story brick building that is home to many young single mothers and senior citizens.

In my last article, I described the Vincennes as a tourist attraction, a building that you might come across on the soggy streets of London. The building’s beautiful craftsmanship and graceful, elegant workmanship highlight the scenery of the plaza.

At that time, many of the Vincennes residents were pissed off by the possibility that the building would be closed and they would lose their apartments. Much of the residents’ venom was aimed at Ald. Dorothy Tillman (3). The Vincennes residents protested long and hard around her office, chanting slogans such as “Dorothy Tillman sold us out.”

Well, many things have occurred since the last update on Vincennes Plaza. So I decided to take a step back into the Vincennes’ halls to get answers to the questions I had, such as, “Do the residents still have to leave?”

If they do have to leave, “Where are they going?”

On Aug. 20, I went to Vincennes Plaza, where I encountered a new management company, Creative Designs.

Creative Designs’ staff includes Isbrahim Shihadeh, Vicki Barclay and Billye Harris, who is the father of Ryan Harris, a 12-year-old girl who was murdered in the Englewood area in the summer of 2000. Creative Designs also hired a community representative supervisor for Vincennes Plaza.

Shihadeh, who had been manager for only one week when I interviewed him, said “We are the new faces of Vincennes Plaza. We plan on making this building a show place for the residents by having a safe, descent and affordable home, a place that people will be glad to call home.

“When HUD had the place, they didn’t run it right. But now, we are being privately funded and we will do it right. “We are accepting Section 8 vouchers from current residents and we also rent to private market tenants too.

“When we came in, we didn’t fire anybody. As a matter of fact, we hired people who reside in the community.

Our goal is to clean this building up. No drugs, gangs or prostitutes. We will make major improvements on the walls, kitchens, exterior and interior. It will become a landmark in this community.”

Vicki Barclay said, “We are the management company that took over Madison Park Homes. We made it a showplace and that’s what we have plans to do here.

“Come back in three months and see the difference that we will make.”

Many current Vincennes residents such as Janice Chew and P. Bradford are skeptical. They do not wish to lose their vouchers.

If Creative Designs does not fix the building’s electrical problems and leaks, many residents are wondering how it will be able to pass an inspection from CHAC, the company which administers the Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) program in Chicago.

Chew moved from her former apartment on the fourth floor to the third floor thinking that she had made a better choice. But she soon found out that the apartment she now resides in has electrical problems. She showed me a light in her closet that comes on when and if it gets ready, no matter how much you pull the string.

She spoke of her neighbors outlets which shoot out sparks. “It’s a fire hazard as of right now,” Chew said. “I’m hoping they can change this building around. Its a beautiful, spacious place and I would love to stay if its safe and descent. But I don’t want to lose my Section 8 voucher if they can’t deliver.

“(The Voucher) is only good for 180 days. That’s only six months. If I haven’t found a place in that amount of time, I lose out.”

Bradford, a young mother, complained about the carpet on her floor, a bathtub that never looks clean no matter how hard she scrubs, and a sink that needs fixing.

“How will this pass Section 8?” she asked.

“I hope they can change this building around. After all, once it’s fixed the right way, it will be beautiful. And I wouldn’t mind staying right here.”

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