Residents Fight Vacate Orders


Under threat of being forced to leave their homes, residents in Stateway Gardens and Rockwell Gardens are fighting the City of Chicago’s efforts to condemn their buildings.

Residents of Stateway Gardens recently won their effort to stop the vacate order for two buildings in that South Side community.

There are many buildings in CHA developments which are in need of immediate and serious repairs, so much so that the City of Chicago recently filed building code violation suits against buildings in several developments in circuit court and won. The city complained that some of the residential housing units were in such a horrendous state of repairs that the residents’ health, welfare and safety were in danger. The city cases were based upon the official building inspection reports that were submitted by the inspectors of the city Building Department.

In each of these cases, the city’s recommendations to the court were to vacate all of the residents and condemn the buildings as unsafe for human habitation. The residential housing complexes that are affected by the court’s decision and orders are Stateway Gardens and Rockwell Gardens.

Residents in these developments certainly recognize the poor condition of their buildings. But they are seeking to plan their relocation in an orderly way.

As of the printing of this story, Stateway Gardens has been removed from the court’s ordered vacate list because of the immediate response of CHA.

Evea Washington, who has been a resident of Stateway Gardens for over 10 years and lives in one of the buildings that were to be vacated, had mixed reactions about the reversal of the court’s order.

She said with tears in her eyes, “I’m not happy because of the conditions of my building or the way some of the residents treat the building, nor am I happy about the way CHA maintained the buildings over the years. But I’m relieved because of the strain the court’s vacate order would have put on my family.

“I just don’t know what I would do if I had to move now. I just prayed and thank God.”

Dorothy Oliver-Harris, who is a member of Stateway Gardens Local Advisory Council, said there are only two problems and two solutions to the living conditions at Stateway Gardens: “The Chicago Housing Authority and the residents who live in Stateway Gardens.”

Oliver-Harris continued, “The new management team at CHA must eradicate the incompetent maintenance management program of the past and must hold its maintenance department accountable.” She added that the residents can change their “horrible living conditions only with caring, attention, self discipline and neighborly concern.”

The executive members of the Stateway Gardens LAC were not immediately available for comment on this issue.

At Rockwell Gardens, the city’s efforts to vacate one building have left residents there “confused and upset,” according to Local Advisory Council President Mary Baldwin.

Baldwin said Rockwell residents are planning to vacate and eventually demolish buildings at 2501 W. Monroe St. and 117 S. Rockwell Ave. Both buildings are plagued by bad conditions and very low occupancy rates; less than one-half of the units are occupied. But Baldwin said the residents’ efforts to plan an orderly evacuation from the building were thwarted by the city’s efforts to shut the buildings down. Where the residents chose to evacuate 117 S. Rockwell first, Baldwin said the city received a vacate order for 2501 W. Monroe first. Currently, the court has ordered residents of that building to move out by early November.

Instead of time to choose another CHA building, a scattered site apartment or a Section 8 certificate, the residents found themselves facing eviction notices.

“That was not part of the plan to have residents be evicted so fast. It was unfair,” she said.

Baldwin said she and the Rockwell Gardens LAC’s attorneys would be in court this month in an effort to win an extension on the vacate order.

“I will be working as hard as I can to make sure the residents have time to make a real choice.”

Joseph Shuldiner, executive director of CHA, expressed deep concern for the vacate orders situation during an interview which was held in his office on Oct. 1.

“The problems sadden me greatly,” he said. “When we took over management, some of the housing complexes were already in court for building code violations, as far back as 1991.

“The solutions to these housing maintenance problems are not as easy as some would believe. First, where would you relocate the residents? That is our biggest concern: Second, a determination must be made as to whether it is more cost effective to rehabilitate the housing units or demolish the housing units. And third, by utilizing the combined efforts of the concerned residents, would that encourage a philosophical change in the attitudes of all the residents about how they care and maintain their communities?”

When Shuldiner and his team of federal officials took over CHA in May 1995, they faced a host of problems, ranging from crime infestation, poverty-burdened residents, housing units that are in various stages of needed repair, with some in critical need of repair, a lack of needed financial resources that are needed for renovation and maintenance upkeep of the housing units, complicated governmental restrictions, and, of course, politics.

With a solemn expression on his face, Shuldiner said the rehabilitation of these communities must start with the residents.

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