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Story Retrieval Date: 11/21/2014 10:56:10 PM CST

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Marisol Rodriguez/Medill

Lee Peebles, 74, is content with her new public housing unit at Oakwood Shores.

CHA Plan for Transformation poses challenges for Bronzeville

by Marisol Rodriguez
March 20, 2008


Marisol Rodriguez/Medill

Oakwood Shores replaced longstanding, and decrepit, CHA housing stock.

123Peebles building

Marisol Rodriguez/Medill

This building on the 3800 block of Ellis Avenue is where Peebles has lived for the past couple of years.


Marisol Rodriguez/Medill

Left-over public housing, pre-Plan for Transformation, can still be found in the Bronzeville/Mid South area.

Marisol Rodriguez/Medill

Community retail needs begin to be met

Housing redevelopment in Bronzeville/Mid South has been followed by initiatives for improved quality of life for the residents of this area, specifically in the realms of transportation, retail and amenities.

The newest, Reconnecting Neighborhoods, is a study administered by the Metropolitan Planning Council in partnership with the City of Chicago, the Regional Transportation Authority and HNTB, a multidisciplinary engineering and architecture firm specializing in such areas as urban design.

Reconnecting Neighborhoods has met three times since November. All three have been directed at attracting Bronzeville/Mid South community members to share the changes they want to see in their neighborhood.

This study is also being conducted in the Near North and Near West, areas also being redeveloped via the Plan for Transformation.

The feedback will be gathered and compiled into a report to the study’s partnering agencies this November, according to Brandon Johnson, project manager for Reconnecting Neighborhoods.

Increased retail options were a significant part of the conversation at all of the community meetings.

Belinda Sparks, a Bronzeville homeowner, thought it was wonderful that this community need was being addressed.

Bernita Johnson-Gabriel, director of the New Communities Program of Quad Communities Development Corporation, has been most involved with the retail portion of the initiative. NCP is a long-term initiative to foster community-led development.

The overwhelming majority of retail options in the Bronzeville area are limited to beauty supply stores, nail salons and dollar stores, according to Johnson-Gabriel. “We have enough of those [businesses],” she said. “We are not trying to get rid of them, but we need other things to help balance those businesses.”

A 2004 survey prepared by Metro Edge for QCDC reported that Bronzeville residents saw the biggest need for food stores in their neighborhood, followed by restaurants.

Over the past couple of years, a number of community-owned businesses have opened up with the support of QCDC. Included coffee shops, shoe stores and a restaurant.

While the mixed-income developments may appear to pose a challenge in catering to residents of different income brackets, Johnson-Gabriel noted that Bronzeville has historically been a mixed-income community, initially due to the restrictive covenants that forced all black Chicagoans, regardless of their income, to live on the South Side.

While there has been an influx of public housing residents in the Bronzeville area, a number of middle- to upper-income black families continue to live in the neighborhood, according to Johnson-Gabriel.

“There has to be retail that will cover every segment of our economic population,” Johnson-Gabriel said. “We’re looking for a medium retail mix that has good quality goods and services.”

With the help of the Mayor’s Office of Special Events, QCDC has most recently succeeded in bringing Bronzeville a farmers market, which is scheduled to run every Sunday. The market will be open from June to October.

“We saw that other communities had healthy and vibrant farmers markets and we were wondering why Bronzeville didn’t have one,” Johnson-Gabriel said.

In past years Bronzeville had a farmer’s market in the parking lot of Dunbar High School; it eventually dwindled to one farmer, who occasionally showed up.

QCDC is working on creating a commercial/retail center on South Cottage Grove Avenue, between 44th and 47th streets.

Johnson-Gabriel said that residents need to have a central place they can shop for a variety of goods instead of having to travel to different places, depending on what they need.

“What we have to do is create clusters of businesses,” Johnson-Gabriel said. “We have to create critical mass.”


Lee Peebles, 74, lived in the Ida B. Wells Homes for 46 years – until they were demolished.

Since 2005 she’s been happily sharing a two-bedroom apartment with her grandson Jeremy Day at Oakwood Shores, one of the new mixed-income developments built as part of the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation.

“I love where I am,” Peebles said. “I thought they could rehab [Wells], but they said the pipes were corroded too bad.”

Peebles is an anomaly. Just as soon as the Wells homes were gone, Peebles had her apartment at Oakwood Shores waiting for her to move in to.

Thousands of CHA residents were left to find a place to live during the interim of demolition and reconstruction, primarily through the use of Section 8 vouchers, through which renters pay a fraction of the rent.

Advocates for the displaced residents say that the shabby system of temporary relocation of these residents has left many in the Bronzeville/Mid South community skeptical of CHA’s vision and the de facto future benefits of the plan for this historically black community.

The Plan for Transformation was initiated in 1999 by CHA as an answer to the isolated pockets of public housing where drug abuse and crime became heavily concentrated.

Over the 10-year-plan, CHA is planning to spend $1.5 billion to rehabilitate or rebuild 25,000 public housing units, most within mixed-income developments.

At the end of 2007, CHA had completed 64.7 percent of the proposed housing goal, with 16,172 units built, according to CHA spokesman Bryan Zises.

“The Plan for Transformation is about saying, ‘You know what, we are all Chicagoans, lets take down these [high rises] and integrate the people into the rest of our society,” Zises said.

CHA has attempted to economically integrate residents of the new housing developments by allocating one-third of the units as public housing, one-third as affordable housing and one-third as market-rate housing.

However, the total 25,000 units of public housing promised by the plan falls short of the 39,000 units of public housing CHA had before implementing the plan.

According to the CHA, only 24,500 units were occupied as of October 1999, around the time the plan was implemented.

Despite this figure, some in the Bronzeville/Mid South area are critical of the fact that the original amount of public housing is being reduced substantially.

Jay Travis, director of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, said that out of 4,086 units of public housing that once compromised the Lake Michigan, Madden Park/Darrow and Ida B. Wells Homes, only 1,320 units of CHA replacement units will be left after the plan is complete.

One neighborhood expert said the public housing residents who have had to find housing after the demolition have mostly moved farther south to areas like South Shore, Englewood and Roseland, presenting new challenges to these South Side neighborhoods and reinforcing traditional patterns of racial composition.

According to Harold L. Lucas, longtime Bronzeville resident and founder of the Black Metropolis Convention and Tourism Council, the influx of public housing residents into the South Side has left Chicago’s black community just as regionally segregated as it has always been, only with additional negative impacts.

“The antisocial behaviors that were contained in public housing have also been transferred into more stable communities further south,” Lucas said.

The antisocial behaviors Lucas refers to are the drug and crime problems that Chicago public housing was, at one point, nationally recognized for. “You don’t break those [antisocial] patterns overnight,” Lucas said. “They are endemic to the culture of poverty.”

Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) said the plan has horizontally concentrated the poor, while traditional public housing vertically concentrated them. Horizontal concentration means by neighborhood; vertically concentrated, in high rises.

“The problem is that it was all done at once,” Preckwinkle said. “There wasn’t very much thought given as to what was going to happen to people between the time their buildings were torn down and the new buildings were built.”

The mixed-income developments that now offer housing in the Bronzeville/Mid South area are Oakwood Shores, Jazz on the Boulevard and Lake Park Crescent.

Lee Peebles who lives in one of the 126 public housing units at Oakwood Shores pays one third of her income to rent costs.

Market rate housing at the development costs about $1.25 per square foot; apartments range from 700 to 1,300 square feet, according to Joseph Williams, president and chairman of Granite Development, one of Oakwood Shores’ private developers.
To qualify to live in these new mixed-income communities, residents have to meet what some view as a stringent CHA leasing compliancy as well as additional requirements made by the private developers of each respective mixed-income site.

Such criteria, which are listed in the CHA’s Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy, include rules governing work. For instance, applicants between the ages of 18 and 61 have to be employed a minimum of 15 hours per week at admission and 20 hours a week after two years of residency.

Non-compliance can result in eviction.

Applicants are subject to rejection based on past criminal activity.

Requirements that consider criminal history have the potential, some say, to leave black men out of new developments due to the epidemic rate of imprisonment of black males in the United States.

A study by a Washington D.C. research and advocacy group, the Sentencing Project, reported that 2,020 black men were imprisoned in Illinois, compared to 223 white men in 2005.

Private developers used community input to come up with their respective residency criteria. Preckwinkle and her constituents were involved in this process.

“We deliberately instituted very high standards for all residents in our new developments because we didn’t want new housing to be perceived in the same way that the old was,” Preckwinkle said.

Problems with the old, she said, included, “That they were places that were a refuge for people who had substance-abuse problems, weren’t working, criminal background and all the rest of it.”

The alderman added that what she called the high standard residency requirements were also a way to attract affordable housing and market-rate families who might have safety concerns due to the stigma public housing residents carry with them.

Lucas said that these public housing residents – he referred to them as “the best of the best” – will ultimately have to face issues of displacement because, in his opinion, the Plan for Transformation is an attempt to gentrify the community and prepare it for upscale redevelopment.

Lucas is convinced that the success of public housing residents lies with their ability to move up the socio-economic latter and to hold jobs that will enable them to pay market rate housing costs.

“At some point the goal is economic self-sufficiency and getting people to the point where they can pay their own bills,” Lucas said.

Neighborhoods across Chicago have struggled with gentrification.

The communities that have been seemingly successful in preventing displacement are those that have established themselves as unique ethnic neighborhoods—such as the Puerto Rican community in the West Town/Humboldt Park area.

This community has used landmarks, such as the pair of Puerto Rican steel flags that stand over Division Street as well creating and supporting Puerto Rican-owned businesses to define their neighborhood.

According to Lucas, the preservation of Bronzeville as an African-American cultural and historical district will provide this community with the stronghold it needs to secure its place during this period of transformation.

“We have the premiere tourism destination in the entire country on the Great Migration experience,” said Lucas, who leads tour groups through Bronzeville. He added that 46 percent of the Great Migration landmark buildings are in Bronzeville.

There is no question Bronzeville is changing, to the drum of the CHA Plan for Transformation. Some in the community embrace these changes, such as Lee Peebles of Oakwood Shores, and others are skeptical, such as Lucas.

But neither is willing to give up their place in Bronzeville.

When Peebles moved out of Wells into Oakwood Shores, she said leaving her new apartment would mean the undertaker was coming to get her.

“I don’t ever want to move,” she said.