A Trip To The Future
Beauty Turner, Assistant Editor
Robert Taylor Homes resident leaders went on a trip in April to Springfield and Peoria where they saw beautiful new homes that were built by the same developers that will re-build Robert Taylor. But the homes that they saw weren't for all but a few of the former residents that used to reside in the John Hay Homes and Warren Homes.
Before the redevelopment of Robert Taylor started, many of the residents thought the development teams would be no more than scheme teams, only out to get their land.
But in late February, Robert Taylor seemed to hit the jackpot with a dream team of developers from Brinshore-Michaels. Brinshore-Michaels held community meetings and answered the residents' questions with respect.
Brinshore-Michaels sponsored a trip to Springfield and Peoria, Ill., in April to let the residents see first hand some of the handiwork of developer Peter Levavi. Levavi hosted the trip and Rich Sciortino, President of Brinshore-Michaels, accompanied the residents.
The Trip Begins
The residents of the Robert Taylor "A" waited patiently in the twilight hours of 7 a.m. on April 17. A luxury lined coach bus pulled up to the curb behind the off-white concrete tenement building at 4429 S. State St.
A coach bus driver adorned in a chauffeur's black outfit with a matching hat opened the doors and smiled and treated the residents like major VIPs - very important people.
Already comfortably seated were developers Levavi, Sciortino and David Moore from Brinshore-Michaels and Chicago Housing Authority official Jose Anthony Alvarez, among others.
As we boarded the bus, breakfast - in the form of bagels and cream cheese and fresh apple and orange juice - was given to whoever desired it.
We watched 4429 fade away into the background like a ground hog's shadow on a semi-cloudy spring day. We entered Robert Taylor "B," where Local Advisory Council President Mildred Dennis and a few more residents boarded the bus.
I started thinking that some of the residents didn't know what it means to be "lease compliant." Those residents who are not "lease compliant" stand a chance of being evicted and will not be able to come back into the newly built homes. I asked everybody on the bus to explain what "lease complaint" means. LAC President Dennis said that "lease compliant means all your bills are paid up, electric bills, too. Make sure that nobody has a felony and if they do, get them off of your lease. Make sure there are no One Strikes."
Dennis said she was having classes to teach residents how to be lease compliant.
"I tell people how to become lease compliant in case they are not," Dennis said.
In the midst of her conversation, community activist Tyrone Galtney interrupted, "You already know that lease compliance is nothing more than a way to take my people's homes, nothing more or nothing less. What the LAC presidents don't know is that when they are finished tearing down these buildings, they are no longer needed. The developers who will become more privatized will no longer be obligated to CHA. It will then be changing hands. Otherwise, if the LAC presidents don't do a contract with the developers, they will still lose out and so will the residents."
We entered the golden gates of Springfield and went into the Madison Park Place Homes, where we were greeted by Springfield Housing Authority Executive Director Bill Logan. Logan showed us around the newly developed complex of single and duplex deluxe homes. He said the area once was occupied by notorious gangs and highly infested with drugs, a development that was once called the John Hay Homes. The Hay Homes once consisted of over 600 units of low-income housing on 33 acres of land. Logan said the Springfield Housing Authority redeveloped the Hay Homes with a $35 million Hope VI grant, the same program that will be used to redevelop Robert Taylor.
Logan said there weren't many people in the Hay Homes in 1998 when redevelopment started. "When I got here, it was only 39 families from the Hay development still here. All the other ones were already relocated. They were given a contract to return back," he said.
I asked Logan how the housing authority kept track of the displaced tenants?
"We used media outlets, such as radio, television and community newspapers," he said.
I asked Logan how many of the residents from the Hay Homes still live there?
A representative for the management of the Madison Park Place Homes said only two families from the former development live there and two more are pending.
Logan corrected the management representative:
"Well over 200 people came back to fill out the applications but due to them not being able to pass the criteria, they could not come back."
I asked Logan about the criteria and he said he would provide me with a list by the end of the trip. I have yet to receive that list.
Cora Dillard, LAC president of Robert Taylor "A," asked Logan, "Where's the schools?"
Logan answered, "About a mile from here. I used to reside here and I walked to school."
LAC President Cora Dillard replied, "So we will need a car."
Many of the residents were very impressed with Madison Park Place Homes. They liked the way the new homes looked, the way they were built, and the safety of the community.
The trip continued to Peoria. We stopped at a construction site and were given out hard hats by Roger John, the CEO of the Peoria Housing Authority.
John showed us around the site, a place that was once a development called Warren Homes, 13 acres of land being filled with wooden homes.
Some of the residents on the trip said they liked the Madison Park Place Homes better. The Madison Park Place units were arranged in a circle, decorated better, and made of stronger materials, said Shashak Ben Levi, Tyrone Galtney and Barbara Dennis, a resident of Robert Taylor "B."
John said only the former residents who can pass the screening criteria will come back to the new development.
John also did not provide me with the screening criteria.
On the bus ride back to Chicago, the residents reflected on what they saw.
LAC President Dillard said, "I liked the houses in Springfield better than in Peoria. I didn't like the fact about the schools being so far away."
Mary Reed, president of 4525 S. Federal St. in Robert Taylor "A," said, "This trip was a wonderful thing."
Barbara Dennis, a resident of Robert Taylor "B," said, "I was wondering, Why do we the residents get to view what might become of something? Take, for instance, the pre-school that's behind Farren Elementary School on State Street. We dug the dirt to build that school but now I found out that none of our children can attend it.
"Will the housing be the same way? We will help build them but want to be able to live in them. Otherwise, we will be like a child looking in a candy store at all the sweet treats that line the shelves with our faces pressed up against the window looking through a glass with no money to afford to buy any. Will the housing be the same? We want be able to afford to live in them."
I called a former resident of the John Hay Homes in Springfield, Mbanna Kantako. Kantako was the very last resident that was left behind after they had forced or moved everybody else out.
Kantako described the Hay Homes: "Living in the John Hay Homes was like your typical concentration camp, wasn't nothing nice. But it wasn't the people that lived there. The gangs and the drugs were a government mission just so they could take the land. You probably find the same situation in every development."
We talked about keeping in contact with his former neighbors.
Kantako said, "I only know of one resident that's living in the same place. All of the rest are constantly moving at least more than once. Even I had to move twice now. That's what the residents of public housing who are underneath the transformation plan have to look forward to now."
Kantako explained what it was like in the last days of the redevelopment process in the Hay Homes when he was the lone resident left.
Kantako said, "The Springfield Housing Authority did me wrong. They stopped accepting my rent and I didn't have to pay for numerous months. So after a while, they took me to eviction court, saying I owed $3000. I didn't pay it.
"They did dirty tactics such as having gang bangers shoot at me. They took my furniture out of my apartment, took it and sat it on the curb and then took it back to my apartment all broken up.
"I had a pirate radio station in my house and my organization, called the Tenant Rights Association, that I started so I could document all of the things that they were doing to the residents.
"Plus, I am an activist. I wouldn't let them get away with the dirt. They eventually gave me a Section 8 voucher for me and my wife and three children.
"They asked me to give them a receipt for all the things that I had to repair and buy. They were going to reimburse me. I gave them a receipt for $1,800. All they gave me back is $127, no more and no less." Kantako said what happened to him could happen to Chicago residents.
"All kinds of dirty tricks are going to be played on you. Many people are going to be done wrong, especially young mothers with multiple children.
This is no longer a tenants rights issue but is now a human rights issue all over the world."