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Andrew Hedlund/MEDILL

Marguerite Jacobs, left, and Christina Grier, center, are nervous about the Chicago Housing Authority's plans to knock down vacant units in Altgeld Gardens. "If they hit the (units), they'll come back and take the others," Jacobs said.


Altgeld residents nervous about CHA demolition plans

by Andrew Hedlund
Oct 10, 2012


ALTGELD_BUILDING

Andrew Hedlund/MEDILL

Almost 650 vacant units of Altgeld Gardens could be knocked down. Much of the complex is in disrepair.

Marguerite Jacobs, a 56-year-old resident of South Side's Altgeld Gardens public housing, sat outside registering people to vote on Tuesday, which was the last day to sign up. She understands the urgency of addressing the problems within public housing, as she has been in and out of it her entire life.

She has lived in the housing complex off-and-on for 30 years.

But Jacobs sees that stability threatened by the city. The Chicago Housing Authority and the mayor’s office will submit plans to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Oct. 18 that includes demolishing close to 650 vacant units, including 466 units at Altgeld Gardens and 182 units at Phillip Murray Homes. Part of the plan includes building a community center on some of that land.

“We are really sacred,” said Jacobs, who has been homeless before. “It’s like there are not options for us. This is the bottom. This is next to homelessness. … We gotta do something. If they hit the [units], they’ll come back and take the others.”

Under the original Plan For Transformation all of Altgeld Garden’s 1,998 were slated for redevelopment as public housing, but in September the housing agency said it wanted to demolish 648 units at Altgeld and Phillip Murray Homes that have yet to be rehabbed, according to Community Media Workshop, a non-partisan organization promoting grassroots media.

“Absolutely no one will be displaced. It’s important to note that the proposal to demolish units at Altgeld Gardens and Phillip Murray Homes development and build a community center is just that – a proposal,” CHA spokeswoman Wendy Parks said in a statement.

These proposals are part of the agency’s Plan for Transformation, started in 2000 under former Mayor Richard M. Daley and involve rebuilding or renovating 25,000 units across the city.

This plan is designed to help low-income families to “maximize their potential for long-term economic success and a sustained high quality of life,” Parks said. “Our goal is to create strong, vibrant community – not just at Altgeld, but at every property in our portfolio.”

The Plan for Transformation has met opposition from many CHA residents since its beginning.

Jacobs was on the waiting list for 15 years before she secured her current place in public housing.

The extensive waiting period is not uncommon; fellow resident Christina Grier, 51, waited for 18 or 19 years before a space opened up. She favors fixing up the housing complex; there are currently many parts in disrepair.

“They have a lot of people who are applying for low-income housing,” she said. “I don’t think they’re pulling people off the waiting list. Why are they waiting if homelessness is so high?”

“My response [to the demolition of units in the public housing complex] is we do have a lot of vacancies, but why tear them down?”

Jacobs said it would make a difference for the future.

“When they knock it down, where would my kids live until they get on their feet?” she asked.

Parks said that the community would have a chance to voice its concerns in a town hall meeting slated for next month.

“No such demolition will be pursued until the community and urban planning process has been completed,” Parks said.

Both women are unemployed. Grier was laid off from a seasonal job this summer. Jacobs, who is on public aid, feels a job is around the corner. She volunteers with a farmers market and believes that will turn into a position.

“I’ll find a job if it kills me, but it won’t kill me,” she said.

While registering voters she spoke about President Barack Obama optimistically.

“Obama is working out,” she said. “I’m just still grateful there is still hope … We hope Obama gets back in because he knows the struggle.”