Seniors Complain About Renovations

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In mid April 2002, work began on a number of Chicago Housing Authority senior building sites. This was the latest installment of the plan to renovate all of the senior buildings.

In my building, the Las Americas Racine Apartments in the Pilsen community at 1611 S. Racine Ave, they started working on the outside of the building. The first thing they worked on was the roof. They stripped and cleaned the roof of old tar and debris, and did a complete restoration.Their next task was the sides of the building. They started at the top of the building grinding and scraping old concrete from between the bricks until the four sides of the building were done. They washed the sides of the building down with water, preparing them to be tuckpointed and caulked.

The work day started at 7 a.m. and ended at 4 p.m., give or take a few minutes. A lot of the residents complained about the dust and noise, the loud screaming, piercing sounds coming from the grinding and scraping of the bricks. Willie McClain, a long-time tenant in the Racine apartments, said, “They created a lot of dust and noise and still did a lousy job.”

A senior Korean resident (right) questions CHA officials Auggie Chidichimo (left), Duwain Bailey (second left) and others about when a meeting would be held to address his and other residents concerns about the rehabilitation of the Sheridan and Leland Apartment building in which they reside. Photo by Mary C. Johns

Nearly all of the tenants were complaining about the dust; how the dust entered their apartments through the openings in the cracks of the windows. The water they sprayed on the side of the building penetrated the windows with ease. Many residents blamed the poor condition of the windows for failing to prevent the dust and water from entering their apartments.

One tenant said, “The dust aggravated my asthma and interfered with my breathing.”
There were four scaffolds on the four sides of the building. The dust filled the air surrounding the building and the nearby neighbor’s homes. Kermit Mosley, a long-time resident, said, “All that grinding, banging and dust in the air flying in the air, it was too much for senior citizens to endure.”

In the last days of August, the grinding, banging and tuckpointing stopped. The outside work had been completed but the inside work was already in progress. The grinding, banging and loud noises were now inside the building. They put in new toilet seats, wash bowls, showers and new windows. G.F. Construction didn’t want anyone living on the floors they were remodeling so the tenants on the intended floors had to move.

Racine Apartments has nine floors. The renovation began on the ninth floor but first the tenants on that floor had to be relocated. The plans were to renovate the vacant apartments in the building and move the tenants on the ninth floor and Tier six into those apartments.

Tier six are apartments from 106 to 906 and they would be reserved for tenants with the severest disabilities, management officials announced. The inside work was just as noisy as the outside was. The banging and the drilling would wake you up in the morning and continue through the day.

On any week day, tenants would receive a notice that read, “Sorry for the inconveniences but the water will be cut off tomorrow from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.” Tenants had to fill their pots and pans with water to wash and cook with. This occurred one to five times a week.

The inside renovation continued into the fall and winter. The workers installed makeshift doors into the east wall of the building but the doors weren’t winterized and cold air seeped through the top and bottom of the door, making the hallways cold.

The air conditioners they installed in the windows left a lot to be desired. Cold air came through the air vents and underneath the air conditioner, where the workers left a half-inch opening. The cold air came from the outside into the apartments. There was another inconvenience.

Jerelean Hall, a CHA senior resident of the Racine Apartments with her Granddaughter, Samirah. Photo by Lorenzia Shelby

The Racine Apartments had two elevators but one was eliminated in September 2002 with the intention of installing a new one, forcing 175 people to use one elevator. The other elevator would take you to the fifth floor and then, if you push number one, it will take you down to two, stop, and go back up to the seventh floor. Jerelean Hall, a long-time resident, said, “Putting in a new elevator should have been the last thing on their agenda. We have a lot of old and sick people living here that need special attention. In an emergency, we need both elevators so the paramedics can have immediate access to the tenants.”

In December 2002, G.F. Construction was ordered to cease work immediately at the Racine apartments. I asked CHA spokesperson Kim Johnson what was the cause for the work stoppage? “There weren’t any work permits at the site and CHA is looking at a lot of paperwork that was improperly done,” Johnson said.

Herman Doss, a resident of the Racine Apartments, was asked what he thought about the caliber of G.F. Construction Company’s work? Doss said, “They should have been much more prepared for business.”

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