Residents Turn up the Heat on CHA

by  Assistant Editor

Residents of the Cabrini-Green development are turning up the heat on the CHA-picked private management company that replaced resident managers and is now leaving them out in the cold–literally.

In the windy city, where winter temperatures can reach rock bottom, in early January Cabrini management company H.J. Russell and the CHA scrambled to explain to residents why they have to heat up pots of hot water and turn the knobs on their gas stoves up a few notches in order to stay warm.

Cabrini-Green Homes resident Ray Wood, 19, points to an open stove and a pot of boiling hot water that his family used in an effort to keep warm while the gas was shut off by CHA in mid-January. Photo by Beauty Turner

While some residents of the family housing development complained that the lack of heat had been going on for the last few months, others said it has been an on-going problem for years.

On January 8, the residents turned the heat a few degrees higher on CHA and their new private management company H.J. Russell by bringing in news reporters into their development for a “walk-through” concerning their heat–or should I say lack of heat–situation.

As a load of reporters descended on the Cabrini-Green high-rises, CHA officials and the H.J. Russell management team were checking apartments and sending in heaters to residents. But some residents complained that the efforts were too little, too late.

“Why does it have to take all of this in order for CHA and H.J. Russell to give us some heat?” asked one resident. “Why couldn’t they just do this in the first place?”

Some residents believe that this is an on-going ploy to force them to move out of the Cabrini-Green development so that the city can take the land quicker.

Bernice Woods is a young mother of three who lives on the third floor at 1340 North Larrabee, an off-white, 16-story, concrete high-rise public housing building.

Woods complains that she has to heat up water on her stove in order to keep her and her family warm.

“We shouldn’t have to live like this. I work every day, and I pay my rent on time,” Bernice Woods screamed out in despair to CHA officials who were on-hand during the reporters’ walk-through.

Woods talked of putting in numerous work orders that had not been addressed, a claim that CHA Director of Operation Duwaine Bailey openly disputes.

“We only received two work orders from this apartment,” Bailey said.

Residents’ Journal asked Bailey what time he received those work orders, but Bailey and the H.J. Russell management team could not produce the times in which the work orders were given to the management office.

Bernice’s son Ray Wood, 19, talked about the unstable and unsanitary conditions they have to endure.

“I have Crohn’s disease; I need heat so that I can stay well,” Wood said.

“Every morning when we wake up, we have to turn on our stoves and heat up water in order to keep warm. Something is seriously wrong with that,” Woods continued.

“It’s very uncomfortable to even use our bathroom. Water is leaking over our toilet from all of the moisture in the air. We have to keep on our coats in order to stay warm in our apartment. This is not right!” Wood added.

Many other residents in the same building spoke about being cold and having to use their gas stoves or the one small heater H.J Management gave them for heat.Marvin Edwards, a resident and head of the Resident Management Corporation replaced by H.J. Russell, said his company, ousted for “bad management” by CHA, never had these kinds of problems. “We cared about the well-being of the residents, unlike this organization. They only care about getting a paycheck, nothing else,” Edwards said.

Community activist Deidre Matthews blamed CHA for the heating problem.

“Knowing how brutal Chicago winters can become, CHA should have held H.J. Russell accountable,” Matthews said. “Cabrini-Green residents deserve to have heat just like any other rent-paying resident [of Chicago] does!”

Matthews went on, “CHA needs to avoid this in the future by putting in…some more capital; you can’t freeze us out, and you can’t scare us out!”

While H.J. Russell engineers spoke of taking care of the heating problem by the end of the day during the walk-through, it was just a matter of a few days before reports of another heating crisis reached Residents’ Journal.

On January 12, residents from Cabrini called RJ, saying that CHA was shutting off the heat in seven of the high-rise buildings.

“Another pipe has burst at 660 West Division Street,” confirmed CHA?spokesperson Derek Hill, who blamed the problem on the age of the system.

“That’s because the pipes are only guaranteed for 30 years,” Hill said. “It has been over 50 years now. They are no longer any good.”

Hill also blamed the heating problems on a recently constructed playground for the development.

“Cabrini is having heating problems because a playground was built over a heating system,” Hill said. “The organization that built it did it out of charity; we didn’t realize that there was a pipe underneath it.”

“These buildings in Cabrini-Green have outlived their usefulness,” Hill added. “We need to consolidate those buildings. We would like to work with the leadership if that is possible to make that happen.”

“$1.2 million [is] being spent to keep the buildings up and running,” Hill said. “That money can be spent to make five times better housing.”

But Cabrini Green Local Advisory Council President Carol Steele said, regardless of the conditions of the buildings, residents deserved better maintenance.

“Even if CHA thinks that the housing has outlived its usefulness, they can rehab, and besides, they are better then living in a shelter!” Steele said.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Categories: Uncategorized