Editor’s Note: The names of residents in this article have been changed. The residents interviewed did not want their names mentioned, and others who were interviewed did not want to be mentioned at all, fearing that their housing options would be jeoparized by comming forward with their stories.
Anthony Jenkins and his wife Maureen aren’t sure about their future living in Lawndale Gardens, one of the Chicago Housing Authority’s public housing units. They’ve lived in the apartments for 19 years, and now, Jenkins, his wife and other residents are in the process of relocating to other CHA housing or out of public housing altogether, supposedly with the help of the city.
In its advertisements, the CHA has adopted the moniker “Change” to signify the “progress” it has made in the last six years of helping to move low-income tenants into affordable housing, and in re-establishing these apartments as beautified middle-class residences.
However, for some of those residing in CHA apartments, including in the 2700 West 26th St. Lawndale Gardens, this change has produced more confusion for residents than stability.
Lawndale Gardens is the latest apartment complex slated for renovation or outright demolition under the $1.6 billion Mayor Daley-sponsored program “Plan for Transformation.”
Launched in 2000, the plan allows the CHA to level or rehab buildings in order to re-open them as single-family units.
The plan was supposed to allow its low-income families the opportunity to relocate to middle-income areas where they would have greater access to those community’s jobs and businesses. In some cases, however, people simply were displaced from their residences, and placed in other poor communities, all the while, receiving sub par social services in the process.
“Many residents don’t know what to believe,” said Anthony Jenkins, 51, who works security.
Jenkins and other residents received letters from the city detailing how the moving process would work, and that residents had 120 days to move. In one letter dated Oct. 16, sent to resident who asked not to be identified, the CHA promised to help residents with their move, stating that the “Relocation Department will work with you to move you to another public housing apartment or to Section 8.”
The letter stated that there would be “counselors, a good neighbor program, moving services, and apartments” for residents.
But the Lawndale Gardens residents said none of those things have been provided.
“They are told that if they don’t find a place by ‘this’ time, they will be moved to Altgale Gardens by their caseworker,” said Jenkins, who also received the letter. “The letter in the mail says they will be moved a block away on Washtenaw, and the CHA Relocation supervisor says the south side, so people don’t know what to think.”
Residents said they have incurred over-zealous relocation specialists, that the city has failed to clarify all of the tenant’s options during the process, and that they are actually being forced into areas they otherwise do not want to live.
The CHA letter also stated that residents “should have received a relocation packet that tells you your rights under the “Uniform Relocation Act and the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act (federal law).”
The letter indicates that residents should have picked the packet up at the “Relocation Planning Fair or from their property manager.” Residents said they were never notified about such a fair and have never received any type of packet.
Some residents said they were told that they were going to be relocated to a location they did not want to go unless they moved out on time.
The Austin Weekly News contacted the Lawndale Gardens apartment manager Lillie Burks, who told the Weekly to contact the relocation coordinator for the garden’s, William Bennett. Bennett and Burkes refused to comment on this story. The Lawndale Gardens is owned by Legun & Norman, a Chicago property owner.
Relocating residents…the wrong way
The troubled relocation process for the tenants of Lawndale Gardens began in April this year. At a town hall meeting at the Boys & Girls Club on 25th and California, residents were informed of CHA’s plan to redevelop the Lawndale Gardens Apartments, which has turned out not to be the case, according to residents.
They were told that they would be able to move to another location “of their choice,” or be allowed to stay and move into another apartment within the same building but on the other side of the complex.
Many residents, such as the Jenkins’, chose the first option, and filled out the paperwork to let the CHA move them into Section 8 housing. The CHA would provide trucks, residents were told, for the move; that it would pay their security deposit, and take them to look at new apartments.
But soon after residents received vouchers, courtesy of the CHA-sponsored Chicago Housing Choice Voucher Program (CHAC), confusion over the move started to become increasingly apparent to residents.
The first sign was with the language of the 120-day notice, issued in early fall. Some tenants found the language to be contradictory to the actions of the CHA.
“The notice says ‘you should receive your rights under the Uniform Relocation Act and the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act at the Relocation Planning Fair or property manager’ but no one we know was invited to a relocation fair, and our property manager does not know about the fair either,” said Maureen Jenkins.
“Then, the notice is dated October, which means we have four months from this date to move, however, our vouchers expire in January, so technically, we have only three months, a point not clarified by any notice we have received,” Maureen added. “Because the process is taking less time in certain regards and more time in others, tenants are getting confused about where they currently stand.”
It also doesn’t help, residents pointed out, when it states, “we will work with you to move you to another public housing apartment or section 8; the choice will be yours to decide.” But yet, tenants feel like their “choices” have been ignored in favor of their quick removal.
Consider the situation or Gardens tenant, 36-year-old Mavis Palmer, a single mother of two teenage sons and one daughter. Palmer is severely asthmatic and has problems with mobility. She has been working with her relocation specialist to find her a new apartment that does not have carpeting -not an easy task when dealing with public housing – and one that has at least four bedrooms. Her lack of mobility means she is resigned to looking at apartments with the specialist since her children can’t with her, unless they are out of school.
Palmer’s situation is further complicated by the guidelines of her move, which states that any tenant who moved into the Lawndale Gardens after October 1999 cannot return under lease, even in the short term. For Palmer to fit this stipulation, she would have to settle for an apartment that does not meet her needs, a prospect she would be prepared for if she was more aware of her options. But according to her, there has been more emphasis placed on her removal than in understanding the ramifications of that removal.
“When we had attended a meeting last month in regards to the relocation, we were greeted by several of CHA’s contractors who were saying that we had to move because they were tearing the building down at the end of November, and if we did not find a place, we would be automatically moved to Artgale Gardens, knowing we would not want to live there,” said Palmer. “It was pretty scary for some in attendance. One of my neighbors was left crying over it.”
Palmer also says that the CHA’s relocation staff member William Bennett was trying to coax her out of her areas of choice, and accused her of being too lackadaisical in her apartment search.
“‘I don’t think you are trying hard enough’ he said, and, ‘why haven’t you found something yet?’ – It was quite rash,” said Palmer.
There was also an incident in early November when affiliates with the CHA’s relocation staff left moving boxes in front of the tenant’s apartments without notification. Some boxes blew away or were lost to heavy rains. Some tenants, including Irene Beckman, who was out of town at the time they were delivered, were quite disconcerted about the incident.
“If you can send a notification about everything else, why not about the box delivery?” she said. “One would assume with over eight weeks left on their lease that they would not be faced with handling boxes; at least until the have found a place – apparently not.”
If what the residents were recently told is true -that their apartments are actually being torn down rather than renovated – it would fit into a pattern of the city to actually demolish public housing in favor of higher-income apartment buildings and complexes.
The city has already demolised close to a dozen public housing high-rises and apartment buildings under its plans. Many residents have been moved out into the suburbs or out of the state altogther through several Section 8 and voucher programs sponsored by the city.
Last year, Daley urged suburban communities to accept Section 8 and other public housing residents, to which most of those communities resisted.
The CHA’s relocation plan to rebuild housing and relocate tenants was supposed to be completed in 2010, however, CHA officials say it probably won’t be complete until 2015.