Is this senior citizen 'destroying the lives of decent tenants' or getting a raw deal?

Is this senior citizen 'destroying the lives of decent tenants' or getting a raw deal?

At 79, Ozell Haynes still signs his name with symbols that only resemble letters. He never learned how to read or write. With the help of his late-wife and four children, the retired mechanic managed to keep up with the paper work that came with owning an auto repair shop for many of the 47 years that he’s lived in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood.

When Haynes got a letter from his property manager, Holsten Management Corporation, two weeks ago, he did what he always does when he gets mail. He asked someone to come over and read it to him. He couldn't believe his ears when it turned out to be an eviction notice.

On the morning of Aug. 30, Haynes buzzed the grown daughter of one of his neighbors into his building. Security cameras later caught her stealing “a number of packages” from the mail room and “removing selective items,” according to the notice, which is thin on additional information. There is no exact time when the packages were stolen. Or how many were taken. Haynes has yet to see a police report of the incident; it's not even clear if one exists.

The Chicago Housing Authority abides by a strict zero-tolerance rule. If a public housing resident breaks the section of their lease that prohibits criminal activity by a resident, or a guest, then that’s it. One strike and you’re out.

After spending an hour talking with Haynes at his kitchen table, it's still not clear to me if he totally gets his eviction case. Aside from being elderly and illiterate, he has a degenerative eye disease that has stolen most of his vision. One detail he is clear on, though, is that he's taking the fall for the theft: “They’re trying to put the packages on me.”

Janet Anderson, a property manager for Holsten, declined to talk about Haynes case because of "privacy" issues. Haynes' family tells me that an informal meeting is scheduled to discuss the eviction this morning. The management company has yet to file a civil suit, which is the next step in kicking Haynes out.

Last year, I dug into the CHA's aggressive enforcement of the one-strike rule--particularly in the old Cabrini neighborhood. But it's not a local policy.

One strike dates back to 1996 when then-President Bill Clinton told the nation during his State of the Union address, "Criminal gang members and drug dealers are destroying the lives of decent tenants. From now on, the rule for residents who commit crime and peddle drugs should be one strike and you're out.”

Haynes’ eviction sure raises questions about whether the policy is being used on the intended targets.



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