Transforming CHA: Ickes “New” Management

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Under new private management, in the case of Harold L. Ickes Homes, is truly a play on words; the management company that replaced CHA employee managers is a well-known established organization that has a reputation for managing good and lasting housing, social and other community services on the South Side of Chicago, The Woodlawn Organization, known as TWO.

At our first town hall meeting, the new general manager, Deborah Mallory, handed out fully prepared packets giving details of the history of the new management and just how organized they really are. They also had a pictorial display of community activities involving block clubs, churches and other groups outside of public housing that showed their involvement was truly impressive.

Seated at the meeting, I had the feeling that at last, some caring for the community might take place right here in Ickes.

For this reporter and other residents, it was the first knowledge that we had of the Woodlawn Community Development Corporation, the real estate management and community development arm of TWO. WCDC has been managing Prairie Courts since the early 1990s.

We just didn’t find it necessary to investigate the job they were doing. Mallory’s promise to engage the residents in community building activities like the ones in the pictures – special outings, receptions, even a convention for networking purposes. These activities sounded refreshing and strange.

Mallory went on to declare that WCDC is a “people” organization that works with the people to produce positive outcomes.

So we went away at the close of the meeting hopeful that a change would occur. Well, not much of a change went into effect in a timely fashion. Repairs came in drips and drops. Work orders were slow to be filled. Dark stairwells and floor lobbies still plagued the buildings and frustrated residents complained of bad marks for “new management.”

The second town hall meeting was held two months after the first one. This time, a more important subject was explored and explained – the residential lease agreement.

Due to illness, Gloria Bertin took Mallory’s place representing the new management team. She carefully and concisely brought up the subject of residents’ lease compliance and/or non-compliance.

Katherine Slaughter from CHA’s Occupancy Department was introduced and the residents were invited to stay after the meeting to talk to her if they desired to move from their present location to another one within CHA. Slaughter said the Occupancy Department was being slowly but surely dissolved. Its present and prioritized function would be to assist residents faced with the scheduled demolition of their present housing to find decent housing and further assist them in their relocation. She was very sure they will not be doing any new transfers in or out of CHA.

With an open and refreshing twist on subject matter, Bertin revealed that one of the new management’s dilemmas was the fact that “so many people who live in the Harold L. Ickes do so without a lease.” This is where the questions about the lease began to be fired from the floor.

One resident asked, “What do I have to do if I want to put my son out because he doesn’t respect me or my house?”

Bertin said, “You and your son or any other person you would want to put out would have to come to the office and sign papers to that effect. You cannot just put him out. He would have to sign an agreement to be taken off your lease.”

The resident responded, “Suppose he doesn’t want to be taken off the lease and still causes problems for me and the other members of the family?”

Bertin answered, “Documentation of incidents over a period of time and/or police intervention documents can be used as a lever for the removal of an individual from your lease.”

Another resident questioned the status of so-called squatters: “I feel as though I can withhold my rent if ‘they’ can continue to live beside me while not paying rent.”

Bertin said, “Many of these same persons are in court with CHA for non compliance by having a current lease. We are working toward resolving this issue.”

Realizing that maybe we could get some other older issues responded to, this reporter asked about a budget for fixing up the apartments that we occupy: “How often do you expect new money from CHA, as in a budget, for the up keep of the property?”

Bertin said, “CHA gives no more money. What money we have to use comes from rent money collected in Harold L. Ickes only.”

With that knowledge under our hat, what can we look forward to in the future? asked many of the residents at the meeting.

This reporter was unsatisfied with this information so I went to Ickes Local Advisory Council President Gloria Williams to see if I could get more information on the budget situation.

I asked her, “Can you give me any information about the budget for services and work orders for us at Ickes?”

Williams said, “Housing (CHA) didn’t give the new management enough money. They had promised more money for Ickes for winterizing, for some rewiring to be done, and for broken windows to be fixed. But they didn’t do it.”

I asked, “Well, has CHA just abandoned us without notice?”

Williams said, “They have sold Archer Courts and Hilliard Homes and Prairie Courts was sold to TWO and it’s to be torn down and rebuilt. Parts of Prairie Courts are collapsing. The building at 2822 (S. Martin Luther King Drive) has concrete slabs falling off of it and the incinerator is caved in.

I asked, “Are they going to fix it so that no one gets hurt?”

Williams said, “They don’t make the necessary repairs anymore. Just like they shut us at Ickes out of our own basements.”

I continued, “I know. But isnt there something dangerous going on down there?”

Williams said, “No. There’s nothing wrong with our basements. The tenants could use them for washing. CHA closed them down for us and used them for storage. Old refrigerators and stoves.

“We have two fully equipped laundry mats in 2240 and 2430 (S. there is more than $20,000 dollars in brand new equipment there. The new company that put the washers in never came back.

“Even the coin exchange machines were available. It took two to three years to get them and they were never used. It’s been over a year now.

“I worked to get this equipment for the Ickes and Prairie Courts. They’re using theirs every day but not Ickes.”

I asked, “Why not?”

Williams said, “They (CHA) said, ‘We are not allowed to use the machines because of minor plumbing problems and since they have not done the repairs, the laundry mats have not been made accessible.” I asked, “Where do you think this property will go from here?”

Williams said, “What they (CHA) have been doing is either selling or long-term leasing to the private management companies.

“We are being squeezed out. Chinatown is moving east. McCormick Place is moving west and real estate is moving South.”

With the uncommon pressure that seems to exist both inside and outside of public housing, and little or almost no budget for simple improvements or upkeep, frustration rules among many residents. The uncertainty of how long before we are individually notified that we too will be facing the demolition of our homes is alluded to in a newly available drafted packet containing a schedule for the demolition of Harold Ickes and other family properties by the year 2004.

This ‘draft of improvement’ of information is titled “Plan for Transformation Year 2 – Moving to Work Annual Plan FY 2001. On page 28, you will find a five-year demolition schedule summary. Residents can pick up a packet from the new management’s office.

The packet does not contain all bad news though it is fully structured to cover plans for all age groups’ future housing possibilities – especially for seniors. Beginning in January 2001, they can look forward to housing without the fear and discomfort of living with younger, less concerned neighbors with disabilities.

Here at Ickes, residents are looking at the skeleton of what was once family housing and realizing that the new school is taking its place. Many residents are overwhelmed by the thought there will be no Phoenix of reborn advantages and education for our children.

After the year 2004, there will be no homes in this area for the children who presently live here. But, coincidently or not, there are homes being erected constantly for more affluent families in the area who will demand that their children attend this new state-of-the-art school.

And the squeeze out goes on.

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