Public housing tenants, supporters voice concerns about security, mold, repairs
December 6, 2019

Photo courtesy MTO
Willie Green, president of the Lake Vista Tenant Association, testifying about building conditions.

By Nathan Worcester

The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Service Center at 4314 S. Cottage Grove Ave. in Bronzeville recently hosted a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) tenants townhall meeting. HUD housing residents in Chicago voiced concerns about security, repairs, mold, and management to HUD’s Chicago multifamily hub director Daniel J. Burke and other leaders. The Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO) and Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP) helped organize the meeting.

“I’m here because, to me, HUD is not enforcing a lot of the issues we’re having,” said Michele Williams, a resident of Island Terrace Apartments at 6430 S. Stony Island Ave., before the meeting started. “They’re putting Band-Aids on the things that need to be fixed. People seem to be afraid to step up and speak out.” She said she feared the Obama Presidential Library, slated to open nearby, ultimately would lead to her building’s closure.

Tracie Harper, a resident of Park Beach Apartments at 5327 S. Cornell Ave., expressed frustrations about the quality of repairs as well as persistent mold issues in her building. “The people that work there don’t get professionals—they do a lot of DIY [do it yourself] work,” she said prior to the meeting.

“Sometimes we’re frustrated that we can’t be able to solve problems immediately—but we work on them continually,” said Burke during his opening remarks. Burke went on to explain that HUD’s powers become constrained when its real estate assessment center gives a property a passing score of at least 60 out of 100. “When it’s below a 60, we have a wide toolkit to work from to try to bring improvements or changes of ownership and of management,” Burke said. “But also, when we’re below a 60, we’re at risk of having to abate or terminate the contract and provide you with vouchers to leave your community—something some people don’t want. So, we work to balance the question of enforcement and abatement.”

“We want HUD to hold owners accountable,” said John Bartlett of the MTO during his opening remarks. “We want all units to be inspected, not just a sampling of a few good units, which is what seems like happens. Secondly—I think maybe even a little more importantly—is that we need to deal with the woefully inadequate budget that HUD works with. I would say it needs to be at least doubled.”

Representatives from a range of HUD properties spoke out about conditions in their buildings.

Margaret Brewer, a representative of the Burnham Senior Building at 6134 S. Cottage Grove Ave. said her chief issue concerns the apartment’s heating system.

“I contact HUD on a regular monthly basis,” said Victoria Gaines, a representative of Island Terrace, who cited issues with plumbing, pipes, peeling paint, and HUD’s handling of incoming tenants, among other problem areas. “I think it’s unfair that management is not doing their job. Work orders take anywhere from six months to years. When something gets done, it’s not really done—it’s patchwork. It’s a temporary solution.

“Every other week, one of the elevators are down,” she added. “If we can’t get results, I want out,” she concluded to applause from the crowd.

“ROC’s [Residents Only Café] basic issue is centered on rolling back the illegal denial by irresponsible owner/management regarding our faith-based residential organization’s right to hold weekly Sunday service in our complex’s community room.” said the Rev. Joel Washington, who described himself as “a veteran resident” of Bethel Terrace Apartments at 900 W. 63rd Pkwy. “This is illegal, it’s unconstitutional, and we want it reversed.”

Katrina Herring, a resident of Archer Courts Apartments who helped coordinate the meeting, spoke out about possible lead contamination in her building and other issues with its management company. “East Lake Management has no business managing anything in the City of Chicago,” she said to applause. “I am going to break that company. I am going to break that company with the help of everybody in this room.”

“If you work with HUD, and you work positive with HUD, you’ll get things done,” said Willie Green of Lake Vista Apartments at 1440 S. Indiana Ave. “All this bickering and arguing and cursing them out or calling them names—it’s not going to work.”

Someone from the audience called out, “You can’t wait two or three years on lead.”

Representatives from Southland, Indian Trails Apartments, and other properties also spoke about a range of issues, including vermin, housing insecurity, lack of heat, and noncompliance. Afterward, HUD officials had a chance to respond to the speakers.

“I’m going to ask my respective staff to address a number of the issues,” said Burke.

“There is no application in front of HUD for any sale of Germano Millgate,” said Burke, referring to a controversy brought up during the meeting about a rumored sale of the apartments at 8808 S. Burley Ave. “You could put a Freedom of Information request into our office—I would recommend once a month—requesting any information relating to the sale of Germano Millgate. You’ll probably get a letter back saying there is no such record. But then one month, there could be.”

“If there are allegations, we will protect against retaliation,” said Burke regarding some statements made about misconduct by security guards.

Constitutional question

“You’ve raised and have posed a Constitutional question of great significance—and that is whether in a HUD assisted property with federal subsidy and community space can be used for religious services,” said Burke in response to Rev. Washington. “We’re working to get an answer to the question.”

In a general statement on evictions, Burke noted HUD does not handle evictions. He recommended tenants contact the Shriver Center on Poverty Law or Legal Aid Chicago.

“If there are other pressing matters, please see me following this,” said Aisha Truss-Miller, MTO development manager.

“I feel the same,” said Williams after the meeting. “I’ve been coming more than a year to these meetings, and these same buildings are having the same problems. Management and ownership should be responsible.”

For the HUD Chicago Regional Office, call (312) 353-5680. For MTO, call (773) 292-4980. For STOP, call (773) 217-9598.