You Have Been Served

by  Assistant Editor

Many of the residents in the Cabrini-Green public housing development are up in arms after receiving a 180-day notice from Chicago Housing Authority to vacate their buildings.

Residents in Cabrini feel that the CHA notices have been served out like pieces of cake, as if it’s something good for the low-income residents.

“The reason we served those 180 day notices is because those buildings are in the worst shape and are unsafe to live in,” Derek Hill, a CHA spokes-person said.

Cabrini-Green is a public housing development that stands near some of the most valuable property in the city. It is surrounded by the Loop skyline and Gold Coast neighborhood, right in the midst of areas that are being redeveloped and gentrified.

High-priced luxury townhouses, condominiums and lofts now stand among the dilapidated, low-income public housing tenements. New residents are saying that the public housing high-rise buildings are eyesores.

Peter Holsten, a developer in the Cabrini-Green redevelopment, said, “From what I can understand, sooner or later, something like this was going to happen. The housing in Cabrini is pretty lousy and getting worse.”

But many of the residents are vowing not to be force-fed and are throwing it back into CHA’s face in the form of a lawsuit in federal court in order to stop what they deem as illegal actions, illegal practices and the violation of their human rights.

Cabrini residents rally at the south extension.

Local Advisory Council President of Cabrini-Green Carol Steele hosted a town hall meeting of her own at Saint Joseph School on May 18 in order to address the concerns of the residents.

At the meeting, many residents expressed a desire to stay in their units.

“When you leave here with those Section 8 vouchers what[‘s] saying you are going to be able to pay your electric bills?” one resident stood up and said.

“You already know how high some of the bills are now,” she added.

Another resident talked about the problems her grandchildren are going though in their new neighborhood since their mother relocated using Section 8.

“My grandchildren can’t even go outside and play in their so-called new community since they received their Section 8 apartment,” the resident told the crowd. “They are having gang wars all around this city when a new face comes on the block, so that is why my grandchildren come back to Cabrini to play with the people they know and the people who know them.”

Grant Newburger, a political activist associated with the Coalition to Protect Public Housing, stood up and talked about the woes of moving with Section 8 vouchers.

“Be careful what you take. Think about your children,” he said. “You might find a landlord with a site-based Section 8 that says OK. But if you decide to move again, you’re not carrying [the voucher] with you.”

Steele, meanwhile, is not happy about what the CHA is doing concerning the residents of Cabrini-Green.

Steele, an activist in Cabrini-Green and a co-founder of the Coalition to Protect Public Housing, has also been known to bounce CHA down a few courts herself when it comes to her residents and often ends up being the winner.

From the looks of things, Steele isn’t letting the residents leave their homes without a fight, 180 day notice or not. “Once again, CHA has tried to make decisions without the input of the local advisory council. But according to the relocation contract, they are supposed to have some type of conversation with the LAC before they do anything,” Steele said. “They didn’t do that so we are going to be taking them to court.”

Holsten said that details of the agreement CHA made with the Cabrini-Green community should be discussed in community meetings planned by the CHA.

Holsten said he thinks the CHA is hiring a master planner for the rest of Cabrini. That eventual plan, Holsten said, “would include community meetings. They can talk about the 700 replacement units and the 270 affordable units in the consent degree. With the 180 days notice, people are scared….At least with the community meetings they will begin to know what to expect….Residents should put pressure on the CHA and ask for the community meetings. Those meetings should happen fast and soon.”

On June 3, residents, activists and other supporters held a press conference at Cabrini Extension South behind the high rise building at 939 N. Hudson to announce the new suit, which seeks an injunction to stop the eviction notices. “The tragedy here is that this threatened disruption [of residents’ lives] is entirely unnecessary,” Richard Wheelock, the lawyer for the Cabrini residents, said at the press conference. “The entire site will not be redeveloped in one fell swoop. There is therefore no justification for depopulating it in one fell swoop either.”

Wheelock also said that the CHA has not been willing to engage the LAC about a plan for vacating the targeted buildings.

Marvin Edwards, a resident at Cabrini, said he thinks the eviction notices came from some of the top political operators in the city.

“It’s a sad day in Chicago when you have people downtown – like [Mayor Richard] Daley and [CHA CEO Terry] Peterson – acting like thieves in the night ousting people out of their homes,” he said. “You can’t put people out of their homes when they’ve been living some place all their lives.”

The CHA responded to the lawsuit with a press release that criticized the effort. In the press release, the CHA denied that the 180 day notices were for eviction, saying the agency will continue to house people in other developments or with Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers.

But the Sun-Times reported on July 2 that a federal judge issued a temporary block on the evictions, exactly what the Cabrini residents and Wheelock wanted.

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