The Aftermath of Relocation

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The most important part of the Plan for Transformation is the outcome. What has happened to residents who lived in CHA communities? Are they getting a fair share of new dwelling units? Do they now have decent housing?

Many factors prompted me to write this article. I felt I had a story to tell. What former CHA residents are experiencing in new communities, their trials and tribulations, needs exposure.

It’s important because it’s history. It’s important because if there were glitches, the Plan can be tweaked, set straight and applied to future planning.

Friendly Chit Chat
While walking through the halls of the old Goldblatts’ building, I ran into an old friend who, like me, was handling his business with the city.

He came up to me and said, “Annie, your name was mentioned in a meeting that was being held by an elected city official.”

I replied, “Oh really? What was said.”

“Let me get this right,” he said. “She said, ‘There were some of us who tried to stop progress, like Annie Smith.’”

I couldn’t believe my ears. I thought to myself, “Why would an elected official who makes tons of money, has a high position and holds status in the community say anything about a nobody like me?”

“I wasn’t trying to stop progress. I was trying to halt the process until a solution was presented to the residents that was just and fair,” I said.

So we can clearly understand where I’m coming from, let’s define process and progress in layman’s terms. There is a difference between the two but they work together in most cases. Process is action that brings about the results; progress is the aftermath, the improvement.

“My position was for the Transformation Plan to treat the residents like people, not like second-class citizens. There were too many unnecessary moves and unclear meetings that the tenants had to go through,” I told my friend.

My friend then said, “You never know who’s sitting in a meeting, and you should always be careful of what you say. She’s angry with you about something and she’s trying to discredit you and your reputation.”

“What reputation? I don’t consider myself as someone being in the limelight. Nor do I care what people say about me,” I said. “I like the fact that I’m on her brain and thanks for the warning.” I kissed his cheek and continued on my journey.

We walked in different directions and I pondered for a second on what he had just told me.

I had been tagged by an elected local city official as someone who tried to stop progress, as a person would didn’t want to see progress happen. That is untrue. What I didn’t want was the unfairness that still swelters within the confines of the newly erected units of federally funded housing.

Yes, I protested the transformation but I protested the process. I protested the exclusion of residents from the planning process. I protested the business deals that were privy to only a few. I protested the fact that the Service Connectors were no more than a smoke screen and that it was also another tool for dependency. I protested the process that had families like mine moving every other year because the process was trial and error. We the families were the trial, and the process was the error.

This water soaked carpet occurred from an improperly installed dishwater in Annie's newly built public housing unit at the Oakwood Shores. Carpenters came a week later to remove it. Photo by Annie R. Stubenfield

Drug Testing Instead of Screening
What happened to the process of screening families? I’m hoping the powers that be aren’t expecting an annual drug test to take the place of the screening process.

A drug test hasn’t stopped recent crime in Oakwood Shores, the mixed-income community that is replacing Wells. A drug test didn’t prevent families from recent set out. A drug test will not train our youth on how to respect their community. A drug test can’t control the upsurge of gang activity that has slowly filtered into Oakwood Shores.

The only thing it does is let it be known if someone recently indulged in ingesting drugs.

Even if drugs are found in their system, you can’t evict anyone because of it. So what is its main purpose? Maybe some Hyde Park firm was promised a lucrative contract in exchange for campaign contributions. I don’t know, but being over here and being asked to take a drug test each year makes me think there is more to these ridiculous criteria than meets the eye.

Is it to demoralize and degrade one’s self worth? Is it to control someone? The federal government (through the Housing and Urban Development agency) should step in and say, “Stop it or we will stop you.”

If you want something to be effective, why not give a literacy test? If we can’t read and write, why not make everyone younger than 60 who is uneducated go to school?

At least they could feel fulfilled knowing they can fit into society and do not have to be ashamed of their lack of understanding. Maybe drugs would not be an issue if people were able to know and do better.

They wouldn’t have time to indulge because they would have started down a new path. At least that would improve one’s self worth and make some of us employable.

One should feel insulted because the current leadership gave the OK for such a deplorable and unconstitutional act of disrespect. It’s not happening in Stateway, ABLA, Robert Taylor or any other former public housing community except Ida B. Wells.

I was talking to a woman who was a tenant of Wells who now lives in Oakwood Shores. She pays over $1,100 a month for rent, and she told me she just took another drug test. Why? I asked.

“That’s what they told me to do,” she replied.

“I’m glad they didn’t tell you to jump into the lake,” I said. I then asked her, “If they wanted blood, would you give them blood?” She didn’t respond.

What makes a person fall for anything? Is it out of fear? Or is it because we stand for nothing? Wake up residents. This is only a test, but with this test you can control the vertical and the horizontal. You can make the picture clear or keep it fuzzy.

A plumber enters the hole in wall he made to fix faulty water pipes in Annie's newly built apartment at the Oakwood Shores mixed income community. Photo by Annie R. Stubenfield

Wanting Change
Moving into a new apartment is something I’ve never done. The feeling is up there with the smell of a new car or a new baby. I welcomed the smell of newness. I welcomed the sight of cleanliness. I welcomed the feeling of safety. I thought that the old way of managing CHA property was gone. I thought some of the people who managed public housing would be banned from the new community. I thought their disdainful attitude, their holier-than-thou demeanor and their habit of living one check away from the poorhouse would be gone.

When I first went to a meeting about moving into Oakwood Shores I was told by the manager that only public housing residents were asked to take the drug test, and that the testing would happen every year. I told her that was unconstitutional, and HUD wouldn’t stand for it.

I was shown two applications, one for public housing resident and one for non-public housing residents. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Whenever I told people this story, they said I should have worn a tape recorder.

I wrote HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson about the situation and my findings. He never replied.

But after that letter to HUD, the application process changed. Now there is only one application being given to the public at large.

Why did I move in?
I changed my mind many times about living in Oakwood Shores. What really sealed decision for us was an incident that happened in the summer of 2005. My daughter, then 14, and I were walking from Lake Meadows shopping center. As we entered Ida B. Wells, we heard the call of drug sellers. “Terminator, Terminator” was the drug being called.

A couple of yards from my apartment, the calls grew louder. As the guy called out his drug, my daughter asked me “What is Tomato?”

“He’s not saying tomato. He’s saying Terminator,” I answered.

“Why would anyone want to take a drug called Terminator?” my daughter said, a frown on her face. “Mother, when are we going to move? I hate it over here?”

“Soon, real soon,” I told her.

The next day, I walked over to Oakwood Shores with my daughters. We looked at the units being built. I asked my daughters if they wanted to move in the area. They of course said ‘Yes.’

The next day, I walked up to the management office and gave my concerns about the site criteria to a CHA employee.

She replied “I wouldn’t move into Oakwood Shores because the site criteria are unjustified.” “But as for you, Annie, move in first, and if you feel its unfair then do something about it,” she went on to say.

“But you can’t do a thing until it affects you.”

Change for the Better?
I swallowed my pride. My son Gabriel and I took the drug test. It bothered me so much I was unable to sleep for days. I catnapped. It was demoralizing, as if everybody in Ida B. Wells indulged in drugs.

It was a smack in the face. But I did it and I moved into Oakwood Shores.

I was given a tour of the apartment I live in now. It is a four bedroom, two and a half bath townhouse with laundry facilities, wall-to-wall carpeting and a dishwasher I’ve had trouble with since I moved in.

During the first month, we didn’t use the dishwasher. But my children insisted they would rather place dishes in a contraption than use good old fashioned elbow grease on the dishes. I gave in and placed the dishes in the washer and turned it on. Water started coming from underneath the cabinets. I came to find out the washer was not hooked up properly. The adjacent room was completely flooded. The carpet was soaked.

A plumber was called. He smelled like a distillery but he knew his stuff and corrected this mistake.

The cabinet doors on six cabinets are on the wrong side of the cabinet.

Many of the light switches are upside down. When you turn the lights off, you flip the switch upwards as if you were turning them on – craftsmanship at its worst.

The backsplash at the sink area has buckled because it was too long when it was installed. It was forced in and glued down and now it has puckered outward because it is returning to its original state.

The tissue holder is so close to the toilet that I can’t let the toilet seat down when there is tissue on the holder.

All the above were put on the punch list in ‘05 and ’06, and besides the dishwasher, not one of them has been corrected or addressed.

On February 8, 2007, during the blizzard and freezing cold weather, the water pipes in the kitchen burst. Water was everywhere. Later that evening, we were asked by management as to what we wanted. We had our choice between taking five bottles of distilled water or the keys to a vacant apartment.

Then the manager stated she would give us water and keys to a vacant apartment. We would have to pack our clothes, walk through the snow with suitcases, and literally move food and other items to another apartment. That was too much to handle at that time. The first night of the flood, we stayed in our apartment. We used the bottled water up in no time, flushing the toilet, washing up and drinking. I had a closet full of VHS tapes, from the top of the closet to the bottom, and some were placed on the floor. Those tapes were ruined. For seven days we were walking about on a soaked carpet floor.

Finally the carpenters came and took up the carpet. As they were pulling up the carpet they opened the closet door and discovered a large laundry bag of my summer clothes had mildewed because they were placed on the floor of the closet.

My daughters spent one night over at the vacant apartment but I refused to sleep over. I did visit the apartment and I was shocked when I went into the bathroom. The cabinet was installed behind the door, not over the basin, but behind the door. I have never seen a cabinet behind the door of any apartment. This was truly a first. I wondered if the apartments were inspected after they were completed.

A month was approaching and we still didn’t have any water. I faxed The Community Builders, management at Oakwood Shores, a letter about my situation. Within a couple of hours, the plumber came.

He had to knock two holes into the wall and a cabinet had to be taken down. As he was working, it started to snow.

One of the workmen asked me “Did you know it was snowing in your house?”

I replied that I did. “[The manager] also knows it. She came by and did an inspection and weather stripping is one of the things that I pointed out to her and I’ve yet to see anything being done about it,” I told him.

The cabinet on the wall that was taken down is still hanging by one nail. I fear for my life and my children’s’ lives when we stand in that area. The backsplash at the sink is still puckered and the list goes on. I hope other newly transformed communities check behind the workers. I hope no other tenants have to go through what my family has gone through. I wish that for once in our (African American) lives, we could be on one accord and assist one another in a positive manner.

The Plan for Transformation isn’t complete. We are waiting on the commercial part of the transformation. The specialty shops, grocery stores and other services to complement our community have yet to appear. It’s un-American to have all these dwelling units and no where to shop. Lake Meadows, Hyde Park and Roosevelt Road have their own Target. So should Oakwood Shores. With such a magnitude of housing units, I hope commercial property will soon arrive.

If the only improvement is dwelling units, then we are in the same boat we were in before the transformation – underserved – then the fight will continue for truth, justice and the American way.

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