Thursday, May 8, 2008

Closure Razes Resident Hopes

Beauty Turner, Assistant Editor

In its last days, eight families resided at the otherwise empty public housing high-rise building at 4947 S. Federal. As the wind became colder and the nights grew longer with the coming of winter, these CHA residents waited. They felt as if their lives were being demolished along with the building that closed in late October.

According to former residents of the building, the closing process was confusing. CHA wanted to close the building on October 19, but later pushed back the date so residents could have more time to move. Relocation was supposed to be managed by the CHA and the Service Connectors, private businesses contracted with CHA to provide social service referrals to residents. But CHA was not prepared to handle relocation issues and problems, residents told me, throughout the process. Until the last days of the building, some residents did not know where they were going to live.

Adding to the uncertainty, many of the last residents in the building were elderly and disabled. In previous building closings, CHA moved these folks first. This wasn’t the case with 4947 S. Federal.

One long-time resident of the building, Elaine White, gathered residents together to offer moving assistance by getting in touch with Residents’ Journal.

“CHA doesn’t seem to care about the seniors and the disabled people that are left behind in this building,” White said.

White, who has a degree in social work and recently relocated herself from the building, was referring to her 83-year-old mother and her brother, Tyrone White, who is severely disabled and subsisting on a Social Security check. Her brother uses an oxygen machine that only holds air in it for one hour. If he is visiting anybody for more than an hour, he has to scramble back to his apartment to get a refill.

“I was told that my mother and my brother will be going to the Hilliard Homes,” Elaine White said. “But now I’m being told that my brother cannot go to the Hilliard homes, so I’m worried about my brother because CHA hasn’t secured a spot for him yet. So yes, that worries me.”

Tyrone recently received his Housing Choice, or Section 8, Voucher. His Service Connector, Changing Patterns, has taken him to view apartments. Some of the apartments they showed him, around 67th Street and Prairie and Calumet Avenues are “not fit for a dog to live in,” he said.

“The foundation had holes in the floor, there were holes in the wall,” White said. “It was colder in the apartment than it was on the outside.”

Another major issue for Tyrone, and other residents as well, is the utility issue. White depends on his oxygen 24-hours a day; his equipment is always charging, running the electricity.

White eventually secured an apartment on the South Side using his voucher. He found his new place on his own after it seemed to him the units Changing Patterns knew about were a step down from his apartment in Robert Taylor.

Another resident, George Wilson, is 53 years old and disabled. He found himself in a dilemma when his mother passed away and left him alone in her apartment in the building.

Wilson was never listed on the lease. But he lived with his ill, elderly mother for two years along with two of his brothers, who were on the lease. The brothers received Housing Choice Vouchers after the mother died.

George Wilson blamed both CHA and Interstate Realty, the private company CHA contracted to manage the Robert Taylor development.

“CHA and Interstate Realty knew that I lived here with my mother, but yet they will not give me a Section 8 voucher or a place to stay. I’m in a wheelchair and can barely move my hands. Where am I supposed to live?” Wilson asked, with a worried look on his face.

Vernelle Henry is another resident of 4947 S. Federal who is concerned with where she will stay after the building closes. After all, she has no income but has recently received a Housing Choice Voucher.

“I was told by Interstate Management that I could choose to look at apartments in any area that I wanted to move into – at least that is what they told us when we did our Housing Choice Surveys,” Henry said.

“Now when it comes down to the wire, I was told by the lady from Changing Patterns [a social service provider], Ms. Birdsong, that they weren’t supposed to take us to high poverty areas. They can only take us to low poverty areas,” she continued.

“I was later told from Mr. Ashford who is in Interstate Realty, that Ms. Birdsong wasn’t supposed to tell me that,” Henry went on to say.

At first, CHA wanted to close the building by October 19. They showed up with moving trucks to move some of the residents to the Dearborn Homes. Some of those moved to Dearborn, such as Delores Potts, would be moving again after her Section 8 apartment was inspected on October 20.

I asked CHA Relocation Specialist Rayne Martin how the housing authority would address the multiple issues of the remaining residents of the building.

Martin said she would get back to me about George Wilson but eventually said they were going to give the residents until October 26 to move. So the residents, including Tyrone, were able to breathe a little easier, without rushing up out of their building.

The Wilson brothers - including George - all moved to the Dearborn Homes as well despite concerns for their safety in the development.

But the problems won’t end with the closing of 4947 S. Federal. Many of the residents have high hopes about their new apartments but may find trouble later on paying bills.

“Residents walk into an apartment and see wall to wall carpet and a ceiling fan and think they are in Pill Hill [a wealthy South Side area],” Elaine White said. “They don’t know what to look for.”

November/December 2004 / Volume 8 / Number 1