As former Cabrini residents try to look forward, our photos reflect their past

True or false? Most of the people who lived in Cabrini-Green before demolition started will get to return to the new condos and town homes that have been or are being built.

It was a question I asked a classroom full of adults to answer one recent Saturday morning, crowded into a children’s classroom at the DePaul Center. They were there because they were being trained to volunteer as tutors for kids living in Cabrini-Green. I was there to teach a one-hour introduction to public housing.

Some of the would-be tutors nodded yes. Some shook their heads no.

The answer is false. As Angela Caputo’s story “Rootless” in our latest issue notes, just one new unit stands for every old unit that was torn down, and 35,000 families are on a waiting list for one of the new ones. She interviewed Annie Ricks, the final resident to move out of Cabrini-Green when her building, 1230 N. Burling, was torn down two years ago.

Ricks is a poster-child for what has happened to public housing residents. Despite the promises of prosperity and safe communities, many former public housing residents still live in neighborhoods that are poor and violent. Transferred to Wentworth Homes on the near South Side, Ricks is no better off financially than she was in Cabrini and now deals with the threat of rival gangs housed within the same complex.

The groups I talked to at the tutor training conference were disappointed and often shocked to learn this. I reminded them to keep it in mind when they looked into the eyes of the students they were tutoring — that yes, Cabrini was not a nice place, a pretty place or a particularly safe one, but it was theirs. Like Ricks, they’ve lost a lot and haven’t seen much good happen in return.

We looked at a lot of pictures and videos like the ones in this slideshow. They’re a stark reminder of how much has changed in the neighborhood. But Angela’s story is a reminder that despite how things appear, little has changed for the former residents.

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