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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