GARFIELD PARK – While reactions to Chicago’s public housing redevelopment have varied, some urban planning experts credit improvements to neighborhoods like West Garfield Park, the former site of the infamous Henry Horner Homes, to the city’s demolition of public housing high-rises.
Residents and community leaders, however, say that while the neighborhood has seen vast improvements since the 2008 demolition, crime continues to plague the area.
“There are some beautiful apartments around here, it feels good,” said Jean Hamilton, a long-time resident of West Garfield Park and former Henry Horner resident. “I feel freer, but you still got some people with their old ways. I like where I live but I could use a few new neighbors.”
A recent Yale study examined crime rates in Chicago neighborhoods over the past 48 years, finding that while crime is going down throughout the city, it remains persistently high and more concentrated in South and West Side neighborhoods — areas where a majority of the city’s public housing complexes once stood.
Last year, Chicago experienced its lowest levels of violent crime since 1972, and the lowest homicide rate since 1967, according to the study.
The data, however, also shows that West Garfield Park, Englewood and Fuller Park actually had more murders in the 2000s than the 1970s.
Chicago’s crime hit its peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with 940 murders in just 1992. A bulk of the murders resulted from rival gangs competing to control the “unstable drug market” as the crack epidemic was on the rise, according to Yale study.
During this time, the Henry Horner Homes were notorious for poor living conditions, drugs and gang violence.
“Gangs — they pretty much controlled everything there,” said Juan Martinez, a retired Chicago Police officer who served in the Henry Horner Homes from 1989 to 1992. “They controlled drugs, they controlled women, they controlled liquor, they controlled cigarettes; they controlled anything and everything vice-related. Basically, they ruled it with an iron fist.”
‘I got out. I had to get out.’
Some residents recalled the situation becoming so bad that many thought they needed to leave the community for the sake of their safety.
“I thought to myself, ‘it’s pretty terrible to not want to go home or to not feel comfortable where you live,'” said Sharon Bryant, who was born and raised in the Henry Horner Homes and left the complex in the early ’90s. “When I was able, I got out. I had to get out.”
Since the demolition of the last Henry Horner high-rise in 2008, West Garfield Park has experienced a wave of new development. The Chicago Housing Authority has replaced the public housing units with low-rise, mixed-income housing and retail space.
And even though crime rates have remained higher than other parts of the city, the neighborhood has still changed for the better, according to Fr. Matt Eyerman, of St. Malachy + Precious Blood Church.
“When the housing was torn down and mixed income came in, the neighborhood changed dramatically for the better,” Eyerman said. “It’s more diverse and definitely safer. It’s been an ever-evolving part of the world.”
But Hamilton fears the neighborhood will once again return to its old ways.
“I just hope it doesn’t go back to the way it was,” Hamilton said. “I think the police have a better chance with the troublemakers now, because you can’t run up 15 stories into anyone’s house. It makes a difference.”