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Leaving LeClaire

Michelle and Tanzanika 2

Michelle and her 12 year-old daughter, Tanzanika

Michelle and her daughter, Tanzanika, sell icee cups to their neighbors on hot summer days.

A quarter a piece, they save the money so they can buy school supplies for Tanzanika and her older sister.

I got one. It was one of those 90 degree days we had last week. Frozen orange goodness in a styrofoam cup.

I asked what was in them. "Kool-aid," she says, smiling. "And a whole lot of love."

They've lived in their little unit on LaPorte for seven years, but it's time to move again. Their home, LeClaire Courts, is closing for good by September 30th, if not sooner.

They moved into public housing after Michelle had to quit her job because she got injured. She's had a few jobs here and there since - seasonal work at department stores - but she's never been able to find anything that would let her stay off her injured knee, which makes it hard for her to go up and down stairs or stand all day. She has a pile of certificates from different training and work-ready seminars she's gone to - a pile of certificates, but no pile of check stubs.

Michelle was nice enough to walk me around LeClaire on my visit. We explored together, talking about what has been like there for the last few years.

In a few weeks, Michelle will move her family to Lawndale to a new public housing unit, for the hopes of a new life in a new neighborhood.

But she can't help but wonder what will happen to the old one.

"I'd like to know just what the plan is before just jumping up and leaving," Michelle says. "That's a little hard for me to swallow."

The Chicago Housing Authority hasn't told residents what will happen at LeClaire. Apparently, there aren't any plans yet for the sprawling low-rise complex on the far Southwest Side, just down the street from Midway airport.

CHA's newest plan says LeClaire will become a mixed-income community with 900 total units - 300 public housing, 300 affordable housing and 300 market-rate units.  The plan also says all of LeClaire will be demolished by the end of 2010. I submitted a FOIA request to see if CHA has already asked HUD for permission to demolish. We'll see how that turns up.

The rumor going around the complex is that city wants to build big hotels there for the coming Olympics. It's not totally far-fetched. LeClaire sits right off the Stevenson at Cicero, surrounded by much nicer communities. Fly into Midway, stay at a hotel a short distance away, and then hop on I-55 to take you over to Bronzeville to see badminton, archery, gymnastics or basketball.

I found this google map of the area that a nearby resident has created so you can see the lay of the land.

The red shape is LeClaire. The description reads, "You want to stay away from this! When you exit I-55 on Cicero, it will look really ghetto because of LeClaire Court."

Paul's map.png

The orange area is labeled "Questionable" and reads, "This is too close to 47th Street and also the LeClaire Court Housing Projects.  The area around 47th does have nice homes, but I wouldn't want Calvin going to school with the kids from LeClaire Courts."

For Michelle, it's not so much the "what" but the "how." She doesn't mind the move so much, but she doesn't like how the process was handled.

To tell you how it happened, I have to explain a little bit about LeClaire.

LeClaire courts is actually two complexes put together - LeClaire Courts and LeClaire Courts extension. They call them "city/state" and "federal" respectively. The nicknames refer to how they're funded. The city/state side is actually not public housing - it's a project based Section 8 property, which means that the dollars to run it come out of HUD's section 8 funds, not their public housing funds. The federal side was built after city/state and is a traditional public housing complex.

So back in November, I wrote about how CHA planned to not ask Uncle Sam for the money to keep city/state open, essentially deciding they would close it. Even then, residents were clamoring for answers about the future.

Then in the spring, it was decided that the city/state side would close by September 30th. The federal side, CHA said, was undetermined, but they made it seem like it wouldn't be long. Their whole reason for closing the complex was low occupancy, and the federal side had a tiny fraction of units with families in them.

But when specifically would the federal side close? Residents kept asking. I went to several meetings where this was the main topic of discussion, but no firm dates were given.

Until the end of July.

LeClaire draft notice

I just happened to be at LeClaire the day a draft came through the fax machine. It was a weird sort of 30 to 60 day notice. It said that the federal side would definitely close on September 30th, along with city/state, about sixty days. But it said that residents could be required to move as soon as 30 days, if CHA felt it was necessary.

So even in issuing notices, there was ambiguity, says Michelle.

All she really wanted was a clear answer.

She called me again last week, after our visit, to say that she'd had a funny thing happen. She was standing on her back porch in the morning, looking out at the complex when she saw a group of men approach her neighbor's house. They stood there for awhile, and she finally asked them what they were doing there.

"Movers," they said. "We're here to move this unit today, but this lady says she's not ready to move."

It was strange, Michelle said, how they just showed up. They even offered to move Michelle, although she said she wasn't ready yet either.

No one had called for movers - they just came.

I asked my friend Stephanie Villinski at the Chicago Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago about this. She was concerned.

I asked her if residents are ever pressured to move or move very quickly, which Michelle said she was afraid of. 

"Residents are pressured to move for sure," she says.

Stephanie pointed to 660 West Division, a building at Cabrini which I wrote about just a few weeks ago. Two weeks ago, there were 23 families. Now there are only 13. 

"It is absurd that CHA is pushing people out even before the 30-day notice expires. However, who wants to remain in a building where everyone is leaving and the conditions are awful?"

Michelle is packing, dismantling their seven years at LeClaire and stacking it in boxes whereever they have space. This week, she'll visit Lawndale again, looking for new schools, grocery stores, and churches in her new neighborhood.

She shakes her head as she looks around at LeClaire.

"I don't mind going, but why did they have to do it this way?" she asks. "What's going to happen here? I guess we'll have to wait and see."



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D Winthrop said:

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I am a homeowner of 9 yrs just South of the developments. I am sorry
for the way the residents lost their section 8 homes. It was dirty and underhanded. But what do you expect from the State of Illinois and the CHA, both are bureaucracy's devoid of emotion. Both are filled with failed programs and incompetance. You can throw the FED's in there too. But I digress. Back to the Courts. I think LeClaire collapsed under it's on weight with too much crime (drugs-gangs-guns). People don't want to live around that madness. I certainly regretted moving so close, but the house was affordable.
I also believe the parents could not control their children, many of them just children themselves when the kids were born. I wish the residents godspeed. But, moving to another development does not a problem solve. If Daley wasn't so fixated on selling all of our
public utilities and trying to back door finance the Olympics maybe
he could find the political will to bring real affordable housing
to Chicago. But don't look for it any time soon. Education is the only way out. There is no future on a street corner, only in the classroom. Young people give it a try,it won't get you killed.

Megan Cottrell said:


Thanks for your kind and thoughtful comments. I'm glad to hear from someone in the neighborhood who both understand the problems and is sympathetic. I hope the change your neighborhood goes through is good for you and your family.

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