[Hpn] Chicago Housing Authority activists raise the roof

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Wed, 20 Jun 2001 16:06:13 -0700


Chicago Sun-Times
June 20, 2001 

CHA activists raise the roof


Protesters turned Tuesday's Chicago Housing Authority Board meeting into a
combination of spiritual sing-along, spirited speechmaking and a teach-in on
the best way to rebuild public housing.

Nearly 200 activists took over the meeting at the Charles A. Hayes Family
Investment Center, 4849 S. Wabash, demanding that the CHA halt demolition of
existing units until replacement housing is built.

In speeches that included shouting and finger-pointing, they accused the
agency of turning over land to private developers and dragging its feet on
providing social service support.

The demonstrators marched across the stage where board members sat,
sometimes approaching individual members, demanding answers to their
questions. At one point, Chairwoman Sharon Gist Gilliam joined in on a
chorus of the spiritual, "Amen."

The protest was organized by the Coalition to Protect Public Housing, which
includes the Community Renewal Society and the Jewish Coalition on Urban
Affairs. Coalition members met with Gilliam last week.

"If we don't demand that they build replacement units first, we're looking
at the end of low-income housing in the city of Chicago," said Rene Maxwell,
lead organizer of the coalition.

CHA chief Terry Peterson has said that he is committed to building 25,000
units of public housing in mixed-income communities. But he said that the
high-rises must be demolished in order to attract developers.

"We can't be trustful that the CHA is going to do what it says it is going
to do," said the Rev. Calvin Morris, who heads the Community Renewal

Even as CHA officials tried to navigate through the contentious meeting,
other developments were brewing which signal roadblocks the agency faces.

The Horner Residents Committee filed a motion Tuesday with U.S. District
Judge James B. Zagel asking him to find the CHA in contempt for violating
the consent decree which dictates redevelopment and management at the
development. The motion accuses CHA and management firm PM One Ltd. of a
number of violations, including failing to place Horner tenants in new
replacement housing.

And while the CHA announced last week that it is ready to launch its Service
Connector social service program, the Rev. Bamani Obadele and others
questioned why one of the contracts went to the Near Westside Community
Development Corp., of which CHA board member Earnest Gates is the chairman.

Gates argued that the contract is with the city and not CHA. He said he has
no intention of resigning from either board.

Gilliam said she will not consider opening up the waiting list for new
tenants or take in homeless residents until housing is built for the
agency's current 25,000 residents.

"I know the coalition doesn't like those answers, but that's where we are,"
Gilliam said.

After two hours, the board passed the entire agenda, which included a vote
to submit applications to the federal government for $70 million in
redevelopment funds for Robert Taylor Homes and Rockwell Gardens.

Carl Byrd, the CHA's chief of development, said that the land at Taylor and
Rockwell will be leased to the developers for 99 years. It has not been
decided whether the land for private homes will be sold to developers or
leased under innovative agreements that have been tried in other cities.

Not everyone at the meeting was on board with the coalition. Stateway
Gardens tenant leader Francine Washington warned the coalition, which has
been more active at Cabrini-Green and Taylor, to "stay out of Stateway

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