Senior Rehab Update

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Two years ago, the Chicago Housing Authority proposed to renovate all of the senior citizen buildings. It’s now 2004 and the restoration is nearly finished. At Las America Racine Apartments, a senior building located Southwest of downtown in the Pilsen neighborhood, CHA hasn’t finished yet.

Here’s a partial list of work that has been done. The outside walls of the building have been scraped and tuck pointed. Contractors have rejuvenated the roof and the front yard, removing the old brick walkways and replacing them with new concrete sidewalk paths. The brick wall that was in the front of the yard on the west side of the building near the sidewalk was removed. They put in twelve new benches and planted five new trees. The grinding and the scraping and all of the other irritating noises and clouds of white dust that surrounded the building has ceased.

Now, let’s enter the building. In the apartments, they painted the walls and the ceilings, put new tiles on the floors, and installed new showers. New air conditioners were put in, replacing the old ones that left a half inch opening underneath the units that permitted a lot of extremely cold air into apartments.

For a while it was chaotic moving people around. The tenants on the ninth floor had to be moved twice, while the apartments on that floor were being decorated. When that floor was completed, some tenants were granted a privilege to move back to the ninth floor and some were relocated to other units. All of the residents who lived in rooms ending with “6” – from 106 to 906 – because the apartments were being made accessible to the handicapped. After all of the apartments were done, the loud banging noises and the loud grinding noises from the inside of the building stopped.

From 2002 to 2004 the tenants only had access to one elevator while the other one was repaired. In September of this year, inspectors from the city allowed the second elevator to be reopened. However, both elevators are still experiencing an occasional breakdown.

A long time resident said “The elevator repairman be here so much, they should give him an apartment in the building.”

Other improvements include new windows in all the units, cabinets and a light underneath the cabinets. Most of the apartment units on the first floor have been converted into offices occupied by the Department of Aging, the tenant patrol captain, management offices and maintenance staff.

Also, on the first floor, there was a reconfiguration done to the sitting room. The sitting room was divided in half. The west side of the room is used for smoking and card playing while the east side is soon to be a computer room. The exercise room remained the same, except the treadmill is broken.

On the east side of the building, the construction crew knocked holes in the wall on each floor, eliminating the bathtubs that were on the side of the building to make way for a temporary elevator for construction supplies. The elevator has been removed, leaving holes in the wall. Instead of refilling those holes with bricks, they put windows in those openings on each floor.

During the renovation, CHA stopped moving new residents into the building, causing nearly half of the units to be empty in a building that has two hundred apartments. Now that the reconstruction is finishing up, there has been an increase of tenants. To rent an apartment at this site, you must be 62 years old or older. A spokesperson for Habitat management at a residents’ meeting said “The response in that age group has been very slow in their efforts to recruit tenants. We will have to lower the age requirement to sixty or even lower hoping that will remedy the rental predicament.”

Some the tenants at the Racine Apartments had varying opinions about the renovation of the site. Some were silent and others were very candid.

James Robinson, a long time resident, said “The work wasn’t done. They did just enough to maintain their jobs.”

Another tenant, Edward Mannie, said “What irks me is the way the elevator keeps breaking down and it’s a new elevator. I know, it broke down with me on it. I was stuck for twenty minutes before I was rescued by one of the building employees.”

Around September 20, the construction workers came back to work at the Racine Apartments. They are removing heavy slabs of concrete from the side of the building, nearly at the top. They have erected two safety scaffolds so the residents can walk through and be protected from falling objects. One is in the front yard at the entrance door and the other is near the side door that leads into the parking lot, which is the side that is used during the day. The front yard is closed during working hours. As of now, no one knew when this renovation would be completed.

Las America Racine Apartments resident Frank Thomas questions the quality of the materials used in the recently completed rehab. Photo by Lorenzia Shelby

Resident Frank Thomas is most verbal, opinionated and adamant in his convictions. About the renovations, he said, “The whole renovation took too long to complete. They used inferior materials to repair the units. They put down cheap tiles on the floors, cheap air conditioners and toilet stools that will clog up if you put one leaf of toilet paper. A cheap elevator, because it keeps breaking down.”

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