They're supposed to be "uninhabitable." But on a tour of vacant public housing units, Jimi Miller says didn't see anything that couldn't be fixed on a weekend "honey-do" list.
"The board ups weren't in sparkling condition, but they were generally habitable, just poorly maintained," said Miller. "There were places that if, you know, I were going to rough it for a week, I could move in, and do the fix-ups myself. But I'm a handy person."
Miller was part of a small tour of units that the Chicago Housing Authority has "offline," many sitting vacant for years.
After The Chicago Reporter's July investigation, which revealed that the housing authority is still collecting operating costs on thousands of vacant units, local activists went to the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington D.C. to request that they look into the matter.
On Thursday, HUD officials went on a tour of some of CHA's vacant units with officials from the housing authority and a few local housing advocates, including Miller and Chicago Housing Initiative leader Leah Levinger.
Moving in would be a dream come true for Miller, 54, a homeless veteran who's been without a place to live for a year. He and his wife stay in separate shelters: he at a Safe Haven shelter with more than 400 other veterans; and his wife at a YMCA at Chicago and State.
"My wife lost her job, both of our unemployment ran dry. My wife got sick and, eventually, the place we stayed, we had to go," said Miller. "The landlords were pretty good to us. They didn't even ask for any of the money."
Miller, a former Lathrop Homes resident, said he wishes his group would have gotten more time with HUD officials. They rode in a van with people from CHA, and the local housing advocates that called them there weren't allowed to talk to them, according to Levinger.
That, plus the condition of the units, made for a frustrating tour.
"I'm not going to say that CHA flat out lied to us but they didn't exactly tell us the whole truth," said Miller.
Miller was also part of a press conference the following day at Lathrop Homes, where community members called on the housing authority to commit to letting residents stay while the housing complex undergoes revitalization as part of the Plan for Transformation.
"We urge CHA to not displace us from the only homes most of us have ever known,” said local advisory council president Robert Davidson, at Friday's press conference. “Instead, we urge CHA to rehab the units here to house some of the 50,000 on the CHA waiting list and most importantly, we urge CHA to not go back on its promise that we could remain here as residents of Lathrop Homes throughout redevelopment or rehabilitation.”
- President of the Local Advisory Council, Robert Davidson, talks to the media and states that the residents will stay at Lathrop. Davidson is also a current resident at Lathrop. Photo by William Camargo.
At a June 27 meeting, CHA development manager Veronica Gonzalez told Lathrop residents that because of possible safety risks, they may be forced to leave their homes before the agency begins its rehabilitation process in the community.
CHA spokesman Matt Aguilar later told The Chicago Reporter that CHA currently has no plans to force Lathrop residents out of their homes and relocate.
Still, Lathrop residents and 1st Ward Ald. Proco Joe Moreno called on the CHA to keep its original promise that the current community members will be able to make their own choice on whether or not they want to stay in Lathrop.
- 1st Ward Ald. Proco Joe Moreno urges CHA to keep its promise to let current residents stay at Lathrop, like they said they would in past meetings. CHA stated during the renovation that it will be unsafe for residents to stay in the property. Photo by William Camargo.
"When I met first with CHA two and a half years ago, one of the things we discussed was that no matter what we did in revitalization of this community, that every resident that was here would stay here and not be transferred, which has happened at other CHA units as we know across the city," said Moreno. "Now that we hear otherwise, I think today's press conference is pretty simple to the CHA: a promise made is a promise kept."
Alderman Scott Waguespack, 32nd, also released a written statement supporting Lathrop residents.
"Preserving the rights of remaining residents to stay at Lathrop throughout the planning and revitalization process should be a priority for all involved parties," said Waguespack.
Lathrop residents are also calling for CHA to clarify how they will be moved back into the property once revitalization is complete.
- David Soto, 2, sits atop his father, Juan Melendez. Both are current residents and were moved from Clybourn where all the units are vacant now. Photo by William Camargo.
"The residents were told that a numbering system that we have no knowledge of will be used to determine who can come back to Lathrop Homes,” Davidson said.
Aguilar said residents who lived in CHA housing as of October 1st, 1999, also known as 10/1/99 residents, have a right to return to public housing, according to the Relocation Rights Contract, a document which governs the legal rights of Chicago public housing residents during the Plan for Transformation.
Each of those residents has a HOP number, and that number, in addition to the size of apartment each resident needs, will be used to determine the order of 10/1/99 residents that return to Lathrop.
"Lathrop residents who wish to return to Lathrop - whether they live on or off-site - have first priority. These families will be housed according to their Housing Offer Process (HOP) number and bedroom size requirements," said Aguilar, in an email.
"Only those residents who lived at Lathrop Homes as of 10/1/99 and maintain their “Right of Return” are first priority as long as they are lease-compliant or meet the obligations agreed upon by the Lathrop Working Group for their tenant selection plan," said Aguilar.
John McDermott, housing organizer at the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, which works with Lathrop residents, says resident leaders have not gotten any official word from CHA clarifying Gonzales' statements, and although many residents have seen the statements CHA provided to the Reporter, residents are looking for direct communication about their relocation.
The Reporter reached out to the CHA, asking about whether the agency would be speaking to residents about their relocation plans and inquiring about the tour of vacant units with HUD officials.
The agency did not reply to those inquiries.
UPDATE: CHA spokeswoman Wendy Parks responded after this story was posted to say that HUD officials were already planning to come to Chicago for an annual visit and did not come out to respond to questions raised about the high number of vacant units. Parks also stated that CHA officials have been in touch with Lathrop residents to clarify questions over their relocation. The Chicago Reporter has reached out to HUD officials for further clarification on the reasons for their visit.
The Chicago Reporter reached out again to LSNA housing organizer John McDermott, who helps organize Lathrop residents, and McDermott confirmed again that while CHA officials have communicated with the Chicago Reporter, clarifying their position on moving Lathrop residents before revitalization, he does not know of any direct contact with any Lathrop leader about the issue before or after Friday's press conference.
Safiya Merchant contributed to this post.
© Community Renewal Society 2012