Transforming CHA: Leaders Demand Changes to CHA Plan


Elected public housing resident leaders and lawyers representing residents demanded changes to the Chicago Housing Authority Plan for Transformation in recent letters, press releases and phone calls to Mayor Richard M. Daley and CHA officials.

Letters to the mayor and CHA Chairperson Sharon Gist-Gilliam state residents’ complaints that CHA is neglecting to maintain occupied units, violating the relocation rights contract and closing down buildings too quickly. The late March and early April letters also state that CHA is asking residents to make choices on where they want to relocate without including information on whether they can stay on-site.

“We have been patient and cooperative for over a year but we can wait no longer to begin to address the severe adverse conditions cited above,” states the initial March 27 letter signed by Mary Wiggins, Vice Chairperson of the Central Advisory Council, and Alexander Polikoff, the lead Gautreaux counsel.

“What is now required,” the letter states, “is an immediate, open and compassionate balancing of redevelopment goals with CHA’s legal duty, and its promissory obligation set forth in the Plan, to maintain occupied units and to relocate residents in a reasonable manner&.

In the March 27 letter, the Central Advisory Council (CAC) and Polikoff threatened to take CHA to court on April 20 unless Daley and CHA officials agreed to meet with them.

The resident leadership is not threatening to take CHA to just any court but to the Gautreaux court. The Gautreaux case is a 1969 federal de-segregation court order, which ruled that CHA scatter any new public housing units throughout non-African American neighborhoods.

But Mayor Daley showed little concern about being taken to court. During a March 31 press conference, Daley was asked to comment about the CAC’s threat to take CHA to Gautreaux court.

“There are so many lawyers in Chicago. Everyone sues everyone,” Daley said. “The Gautreaux decision has been a decision rendered in 1969 and this is 2001.”

Daley said he would trust CHA CEO Terry Peterson’s judgement in dealing with the CAC’s complaints. “I’ll agree and sign on with what Terry Peterson says 100 percent,” Daley said.

In response to Daley’s comments, Polikoff, the lead attorney for the Gautreaux court decree, told RJ during a telephone interview that the Gautreaux decision is still continuing.

“The mayor is correct,” Polikoff said. “It is a decision that was rendered in 1969 and this is 2001. It is also true that the case is still going on into 2001.”

Polikoff said the purpose of the letter sent by him and the CAC was to ask to meet with the mayor and CHA CEO Terry Peterson.

“The CAC has asked him to join in a meeting with Terry Peterson to work things out. This is not a litigation strategy. We’re not trying to fight with CHA,” Polikoff said.

Polikoff said he was sure the mayor would be willing to join the meeting.

“I’m sure the mayor will be willing to do that,” he said.

“And maybe they’ll even be worked out before April 20 so we won’t have to file anything in court.” Polikoff said the purpose for taking CHA to the Gautreaux court would be to bring the parties together. “If we file with Judge Aspen in the Gautreaux case on April 20, as we said we will do if we haven’t worked things out satisfactorily before hand, the purpose will be to ask the judge to bring the parties together to talk and work things out,” he said.

In a March 30 letter, the CAC and Polikoff ask CHA to stop the relocation process until they meet. “We ask, therefore, that absent either a well-documented emergency or a showing that particular relocation activities should cease until we have had a mutual opportunity to resolve these concerns,” the CAC and Polikoff wrote.

The letter states that residents have reported that CHA is violating the Relocation Rights Contract in Stateway Gardens and other areas.

The letter also states that CHA is not informing residents in the process of being relocated about housing units that may be available in their development.

“Of even greater importance, residents report that they are being asked to make decisions about their housing choices without being provided appropriate information about ‘on-site’ alternatives,” Polikoff and the CAC wrote.

CHA Chairperson Sharon Gist Gilliam responded to the CAC’s March 27 letter by addressing each concern separately. In addressing the concern about CHA’s maintenance of occupied units during implementation of the Plan, the letter states that CHA does not intend to continue to spend money on the occupied units. “The Authority intends to obey federal law and demolish these units, many of which are occupied and cannot be maintained in a safe and decent condition,” Gist-Gilliam wrote.

“It would neither be prudent nor responsible for the Authority indefinitely to continue to expend scarce dollars in trying to maintain these buildings when those dollars can be put to more productive uses of creating or rehabbing new units, among other things.”

The CAC and Polikoff responded to Gist-Gilliam in a letter dated April 5. They wrote that CHA is neglecting to repair units and buildings, which may be creating emergency conditions.

“We are concerned that in its understandable desire to preserve scarce capital dollars, CHA may be consolidating buildings too rapidly and may be pushing buildings to emergency status prematurely by ‘starving’ them of maintenance, before CHA is truly prepared to provide compassionate relocation for all the families forced to move,” they wrote.

I asked Peterson after the April 11 Tenant Services Meeting if CHA had agreed to meet with the CAC and others. Peterson said CHA was working with the CAC to set a date.

“I’ve called Ms. Bone (the CAC chairperson) and personally asked to sit down with her. We’re still talking about setting up a date,” Peterson said.

Shortly thereafter, Peterson ordered management workers to go door to door to survey which residents needed immediate emergency repairs throughout CHA developments.

But resident leaders still want to meet with CHA and talk about a number of issues. In a press release dated April 13, the Central Advisory Council said they want to discuss funding for upkeep of the occupied units while the Plan is being implemented as well as residents’ complaints about not receiving promised money for utility and phone connections during relocation. The release also mentions that residents are not being reimbursed for property that is lost and damaged when they move.

“While these emergency repairs are an encouraging first step by the CHA and City to address some of the more extreme housing conditions, a more comprehensive and thoughtful process must be put in place to maintain occupied housing units during the entire multi-year implementation period,” the release quotes CAC Vice Chairperson Wiggins.

The CAC wants to talk about residents’ complaints that they are moving into units that are in the same or worse condition than the apartments they are leaving. The release also states that some residents are receiving eviction notices for refusing to make a decision about their housing choices. Many of those residents are refusing to sign their housing choice documents because they say CHA is not providing information about how many units will be built and how many will be available.

“Under CHA’s Plan, residents must compete in a lottery if enough units are not built back at specific sites,” the release states. “But CHA has not provided how many will be available where, or what they will look like.”

The CAC wants to talk to CHA and City officials and find out why the plan to employ residents and train them to monitor the Plan was never carried out. The CAC also wants to talk about information that many residents are moving into other low-income, largely African American neighborhoods.

“Recent reports indicated that the majority of the families being relocated under the Plan are being concentrated into communities that are nearly as distressed and racially concentrated as the public housing communities they formerly lived in, the release states.

“To create such communities again will defeat the purpose of the Plan, squander scarce dollars, and require another whole new ‘Plan’ again in a few years – it must be done right now.”

As of Residents’ Journal press deadline (April 16), the CAC, their attorneys and City officials have not met.

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