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'White Folks Forcing Us Out' say Chicago Housing Authority Residents

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By Wendell Hutson, Special to the NNPA from the Chicago Crusader –

Black residents living at the Cabrini Green public housing complex cite racism as the main reason their landlord is evicting them. “White folks are forcing us out. They do not want us here anymore,” contended Norina Rhondes, 37, who was born and raised at Cabrini Green.”

The mother of a 19-year-old son, who is a sophomore at Southern Illinois University, and a 14-ear-old son, who is a freshman at Phoenix Military Academy in Chicago, Rhodes added that she sees her white neighbors stare down from their balconies shaking their heads. “They sit high but look low on us Black folks thinking they are better than us because they have money. One white man had the nerve to drive through here one day, get out his car and said to a group of Black males ‘you guys have been sitting out here all day. Why don’t you go do something productive like get a job,’’ recalled Rhodes, who plans to attend Malcolm X College in January.

The majority of the residents are Black. Race had nothing to do with the evictions, said Chicago Housing Authority officials. They cited crime as the reason at the 73-year-old housing complex at 900 N. Hudson Ave., which spans five blocks. “The levels and nature of criminal activity continue to pose a real threat to the residents of the area, but it is a particularly disturbing threat due to the significant number of children in the old section of row houses,” said Carlos Ponce, interim chief executive officer for the CHA. “This Authority must do what’s right and vacate the property. CHA will take great care in making the transition as smooth and as comfortable as possible for the remaining families.”

According to Matthew Aguilar, a spokesman for the CHA, the non-rehabbed portion of the row houses includes 438 units with only 33 occupied, creating a 92 percent vacancy rate. And the rehabbed portion of the site includes 146 units that were rehabbed two years ago, so those living in these units do not have to relocate. Significant resources have been put towards maintaining the safety of the property, but in spite of these efforts, based on the current data, it was determined that the old sections of the row houses were dangerous and no longer suitable for residents, Aguilar said. Maureen Biggane, a Chicago Police Department spokeswoman was unavailable at Crusader press time to verify the CHA’s contention of recent criminal activity at Cabrini Green.

The CHA plans to provide housing counseling and help residents find new housing using a Housing Choice Voucher (formerly called a Section 8 certificate). The Crusader spent all day Tuesday at Cabrini Green, which is surrounded by expensive looking townhomes and condominiums and high-rise office buildings located just north of Chicago Avenue, and witnessed no criminal activity during the day or late at night. Most residents seemed to know one another and stood outside talking while children played and youth kept busy playing basketball at an outdoor court on Hudson Avenue.

Residents gave the Crusader a tour of the rehabbed and old row houses. The rehabbed units included new doors, windows, floors, freshly painted walls, and fine woodwork; while the old row houses had cracked and dirty walls, broken windows, old appliances, and dim light fixtures inside.

Wanda White, 45, of 847 N. Mohawk Avenue, said developers are tired of waiting for what it deems prime real estate. “Developers want this land so they can build condos. The whites that live around here are tired of looking at us and are pressuring the city to get us the hell out,” she said. “They along with whites are tired of waiting and want us out.” White is among the 33 households that were informed by the CHA September 1 that they must move within 180 days. Tamekia Murray, is a 25-year-old single mom, who is White’s niece and lives with her along with her 2 year-old son Rashad. She has been trying for three years to get approved for her own CHA unit but continues to be denied.

“First they said I needed an income. And now that I have one, they are coming up with more excuses,” she said. Unemployed and a single mother as well, White said she is unsure where she will move. But one thing she said she does know is that Cabrini Green does not have an issue with violence. “They (CHA) are lying. Police would be rolling all up and down here if it were as bad as the media has portrayed it. When was the last time you heard on TV an incident occurring here?” she said.

At its peak Cabrini Green housed 15,000 people and in 1980 Mayor Jane Byrne moved into the complex to see first-hand what life was like there.

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+3 # Guest 2011-09-14 09:26
I've lived right across the street from the Cabrini Greenrow houses for over a year now. The other comments in response to this article are very true and very real.

I have seen little kids beat up and rob a man minding his own business walking down Chicago Ave in River North, right outside the row houses. By the time I crossed the street to assist him, they retreated back to the confines of the row houses. My roommate has witnessed 2 car break-ins in broad daylight by kids-he testified against both in court, who pled guilty.

Last summer, kids at the Durso Park broken-glass-filled basketball courts on Hudson Ave, saw me walking my dog and sltold me they plan on "killing him".
+4 # Guest 2011-09-13 10:42
I am sad to hear the perspective that White thinks the color of her skin is in any way the cause of her being evicted. The truth is we all want a better and safer chicago, we should all have productive days of work to ensure that, we shouldn't 'stand around', scream in the streets and all the behavior that I personally have witnessed in those streets from visits "balcony above". I welcome improvement, development, employment, behavioral changes in that area. As a builder, I know for a fact they have had time to make changes, but NO change has been made for 3 years even though renovations were made to inspire the neighbors. Clean, paint, apply for jobs. Simple ethics.
+4 # Guest 2011-09-12 20:06
I find this article incredibly offensive. Closing the rowhomes has absolutely NOTHING to do with "racism". I am harassed daily, threatened and unable to walk around my own neighborhood at night without feeling afraid. Whatever color your skin happens to be, dealing drugs, participating in gang activity and brandishing weapons is not acceptable behavior. The race card is always thrown on the table as a
convenient excuse but, oddly, the ones dealing that card are generally the only ones mentioning race. I commend the CHA for doing the right thing for the kids in this neighborhood. These kids will never get out from under the influence of the "criminal lifestyle" if they are forced to grow up around it. There are some fantastic kids in the area who I've had the opportunity to meet; they deserve the chance to grow up in a neighborhood of positive role models, not criminals.
+5 # Guest 2011-09-12 10:39
i welcome the reporter of this story to spend the night on the streets of cabrini and tell me in the morning there is no crime.... that is if you are still alive.
+4 # Guest 2011-09-12 10:10
Not only do the facts show the high crime rate in the row houses, since I have moved in to the neighborhood, I personally have had rocks thrown at me, obscenities yelled at me, rocks thrown at my windows, witnessed countless car break-ins (the most recent being last night), and heard numerous gunshots on a regular basis. After these incidents, I have also witnessed the culprits running into the row houses. It is not a matter of race. If there are any prejudices, it seems it is among the CHA residents and Ms Rhodes and Ms White are looking for someone to blame.
+4 # Guest 2011-09-12 09:52
This year, Bassam Naoum, was killed at Munchies, a local store that he owned and managed for years. I can tell you as a resident, incidents like this or the murder that occurred on Mohawk over the Fourth of July weekend are the reason people are applauding the Cabrini buildings being replaced by businesses like Target or condos. We can certainly pretend that events like these or last year's 3am riot, in which 20 police vehicles were needed to quell the violence, are commonplace. Or, as the article suggests, we can pretend that they just never happened. However, those of us that prefer reality have no choice but to conclude the closing of the row houses will drastically increase the safety of the neighborhood.
+4 # Guest 2011-09-12 09:39
Racism? Really?? How many times are we going to play this card??! it's called "Crime". Check with CPD - the stats are readily available. But let's not let facts get in the way of Ms. Rhondes' world view. Puh-lease.
+7 # Guest 2011-09-12 08:28
In response to Wanda White's claim, in the reporter's words, "But one thing she said she does know is that Cabrini Green does not have an issue with violence" - this is completely untrue. I live in a newer building built on a vacant lot that once lived a public housing mid-rise building, right off Chicago Ave. I have heard countless gunshots in the 1 year I have lived here, witnessed a riot at 3am last fall, see drug use and dealings on almost a daily basis, and the list goes on.

I would also like to comment on Anita Rhondes' quote, "White folks are forcing us out. They do not want us here anymore...". There are African American individuals who live in my building who are completely fed up with the illegal activity that constantly goes on in the Cabrini Green row housing complex. This is not a race issue. It is an issue of quality of life for these unfortunate people.

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