The Next CHA Chairman?


The Chicago Housing Authority has been without a chairman since Nov. 1, 1997, when then-Chairman Edwin Eisendrath stepped down from his post to take on a different venture.

Because CHA has been controlled by the federal government since 1995, President Bill Clinton will make the final decision on who will get the job. Andrew Cuomo, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, will likely make a recommendation to the president.

But local politicians also will have a strong voice in who becomes the new chairman. U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-7), U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1), U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2) and U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (D-IL) strongly endorsed former Mayor Eugene Sawyer. Sawyer now works for Crown Energy, an oil brokerage that had business dealings with CHA. Sawyer also is co-chairman of Rush’s voter registration drive in memory of Mayor Harold Washington, whom Sawyer succeeded as mayor. Sawyer reportedly was pleased with the endorsements but had to remove his name from the possible candidates. Read more »

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Farewell, Mr. Chairman


As chairman of Chicago Housing Authority, Edwin Eisendrath headed the 1995 federal takeover. Eisendrath stepped down in November to pursue a career in the education field but RJ Reporter Anita Baker caught up with him in his new office and reflected on the past three years.

RJ: What was your role as CHA chairman?

EE: “I hired CHA’s executive director, who is Joseph Shuldiner, a choice I am very glad I made.

“The responsibilities that were mine suddenly became Mr. Shuldiner’s and he is now is doing all of the heavy lifting. The board has to approve a number of things: policies of the agency, budgets, contracts, etc. In this case, I was the board. Everything was unanimous. In order to do this you have to listen to lots of people. You can’t just say ‘Gee, I’m on your own. I get to make whatever decision I want.’ Then you’re guaranteed to fail. You have to spend lots of time listening to residents and community leaders. Instead reach out for whatever the best opinion about how to do things. Read more »

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Chatting with Marie Billingsley


Marie Billingsley, President of the Senior South Local Advisory Council. Photo by Anita L. Baker.

The late Walter Russell was a dear and good friend of Marie Billingsley, the president of the Senior South Local Advisory Council. When Billingsley moved into 6401 S. Yale Ave. in 1982, Russell asked her to work with him. They worked together since that time.

“I did not just start to be president,” Billingsley explained during my recent interview with her.

Billingsley came up from the ranks. First, she was a member of a local advisory committee, then the chairperson for modernization, then vice president to the late Walter Russell. After Mr. Russell retired as building president, Billingsley then was elected building president of Senior Housing Local Advisory.

Mr. Russell and Billingsley worked well together

“He was so kind to the seniors,” Billingsley recalled about Russell. Read more »

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The Life of Artensa Randolph


Public housing legend Mrs. Artensa Randolph passed away on Aug. 19, 1997. I have compiled a list of tributes and interviews to her. Let’s start with a passage from her memorial book:

Mrs. Artensa Randolph was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas on October 1, 1915. Mrs. Randolph was a product of the old, southern Black work force, beginning her early employment picking cotton on the plantations in Pine Bluff. She moved to Chicago in 1937, in search of an improved quality of life and initially found employment in the stockyards. Eventually, she achieved her career goal as a community Representative for the Chicago Board of Education, a position from which she retired after 20 years of service. This position afforded her many opportunities to know the people and the communities of Chicago.

In 1962, Mrs. Randolph moved into the Chicago Housing authority’s (CHA) Washington Park Homes where she lived for the past 35 years. Upon her arrival she quickly became involved in the tenant’s rights movement, which, much like the civil rights movement of earlier years, was organized primarily to address the inequities faced by residents of public housing. Mrs. Randolph was at the vanguard, uniting residents to address the sharp decline in public housing upkeep and maintenance and pushing for affordable and decent housing; a movement which continues today. Mrs. Randolph determination helped change the face of Chicago public housing. Through her efforts, modernization funds for CHA were suspended until appropriate recognition was given to the resident organizations and until a Memorandum of Accord, outlining the residents’ partnership with CHA was signed.

Read more »

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Andrew Cuomo: Front and Center


During a recent visit to the Operation PUSH headquarters in Chicago, new U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Andrew Cuomo offered little concrete about his plans for public housing communities.

In a breakfast speech, radio broadcast and press conference on Sept. 6, Cuomo talked about his concerns for public housing issues but used words that the residents of CHA have been listening to since May 1995, when HUD took over the agency. That’s when residents first started being bombarded with words about what HUD’s plans for CHA were.

Like others before him, Cuomo said HUD now wishes to involve CHA residents in the redevelopment of CHA.

“It’s not for us to do. It’s for the people in the communities to do,” he said at the breakfast.

“It’s for you to build your community as you see fit. That’s what empowerment is all about.”

"Let's not say we're going to get out of the housing business. Let's say we have to get into the housing business and do it right. That's going to be the story of Cabrini, Horner, ABLA and other redevelopments." -HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo. Photo by John Brooks

Cuomo seemed to say that redevelopment in many communities was going well. But he apparently is not aware that many residents in these communities are very suspicious that redevelopment really means land grab. I wasn’t put at ease when he said,

“Let’s not say we’re going to get out of the housing business. Let’s say we have to get into the housing business and do it right. That’s going to be the story of Cabrini, Horner, ABLA and other redevelopments.”

Cuomo said 87 percent of new jobs are in the suburbs and 97 percent of new businesses are in the suburbs. Well, I don’t think that is any surprise to the vast majority of public housing residents that are unemployed. Plus, when residents do go out on a job interview, they often are not hired. Cuomo did not provide specifics about developing new training or job placement programs:

“We just reformed welfare. Amen. But it’s not making them work, it’s about letting them work.”

Cuomo made another statement that the way public housing was set up, it was doomed to fail because of poverty in public housing along with crime:

“A good idea gone bad – that’s what public housing is. You should have known it was bad before you put that first brick down,” Cuomo said at the Operation PUSH breakfast and radio address.

“The mentality was ‘Let’s pack them in there because the more you can get in there, the better. Let’s build public housing and let’s put it all in one place and put it far away and then let’s build a wall between us and them.’

“Of course it failed. It was doomed to fail.”

Later at a press conference at Operation PUSH, Cuomo said public housing was “a good idea implemented by amoral leadership.

“The housing was a good idea but the leadership was perverted.”

But is it the buildings that are causing the problems in public housing or is it the way the buildings are run? Almost all of the residents of public housing are low-income and once a resident of public housing achieves a steady income in the mid range, you can bet that within a year, that person will have moved out. There is no incentive for someone to stay in public housing once their income increases. Why live in an area where your neighbor’s rent is 90 percent lower than yours and some may be selling drugs out of their unit or violating lease regulations by having illegal tenants or participating in other criminal activities?

The problems that go on in CHA are often fueled by people who come from other areas of Chicago and the suburbs. These people would not allow the type of activity in their communities that they support in public housing. CHA raises rent when income increases but living conditions are still deplorable. During the press conference, I asked Cuomo how he could convince the people who have been chased away from public housing by these conditions to stay there. He told me:

“We’re going to improve the community and make it a community that they want to live in.”

We heard the same lines from former CHA Chairman Vince Lane, former HUD Secretaries Jack Kemp and Henry Cisneros as well as President Bill Clinton. But you can tear down the building and the community will still exist along with the problems that are there. You can preach about how putting someone to work will help the community but what good does it do when that someone of good moral standards moves out and another resident who may have an anti-social background moves in? Then we are back where we started.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder of Operation PUSH, was more specific on how to create communities that house both low- and middle-income residents. The way to create these neighborhoods is keep middle-income families from leaving poor areas because they don’t want to be part of those communities.

"What we really want to do is end low0income areas. Isolation and poverty cause the anqiety." -the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Founder of Operation PUSH. Photo by John Brooks

“What we really want to do is end low-income areas. Isolation and poverty cause the anxiety,” Jackson said.

It can be tough living in the shadow of a famous father, especially when your father was well respected by most and held high marks among fellow politicians. When your father is former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, people will have high expectations of the offspring. Which puts Andrew Cuomo in an interesting situation: Does he become his father or break away and make a name for himself.

Though I am not going to compare him to his father or his predecessor, former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, and I am also taking into consideration that he’s been on the job for less than a year, I found his statements to be predictable.

I would advise Cuomo to get down to some serious business. The people of public housing know what has to be done. So let’s do it.

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Stop the Violence


The violence in Chicago is escalating at a speed that boggles the mind. Reports would have you to believe that it is not so. They give you percentages and dialogue which is hard to believe. They say that gun crimes are especially down. But there are over 200 million guns on the street and it is easy to get for anyone who wants one. Violence is violence and the violent people do not always use a gun. There are a lot of different organizations being formed to help to stop the violence. I checked out a few. Read more »

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Marion…Marion Stamps


And so we came together as a community, as we often do, and the press came to watch this community, as they often do. A community no longer defined by boundaries but by time, events and realities common to us all. And we stood and waited, anticipating the arrival of Marion(to those who knew her) and Marion Stamps (to those who did not.)

As a community, we gather together on many occasions. None of us are there all of the time. But, if there was a gathering that struck at the heart of this community, you could anticipate the arrival of Marion…Marion Stamps. If the issues were children, families, education, housing, welfare, warfare, building them up or tearing them down, she was there. Like it or not, invited or not, she was there. And even as a community, like it or not, invited or not, because some did not like it or invite, she represented us. She represented us because the issues that she challenged and championed affected each and every one of us. So, those of us who knew Marion… Marion Stamps knew that she was coming and anticipated her arrival. Read more »

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