[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #13 in April 2013]
What’s Gentrification Got to Do With It? An Interview with Deborah Taylor
Deborah Taylor is a staunch advocate/activist for safe, affordable housing. Ms.Taylor grew up in the Ida B. Wells housing project. The housing complex was located on the east side of King Drive to the west curb of Cottage Grove, 37th street on the north to 39th Street on the south. Most of that area is a huge vacant lot as of this interview. At age 19, Ms. Taylor moved three blocks away to 3939 South Lake Park, a public housing development that is still in the same location under the same name. Indicative of change is a new group of dwellings just west of the 3939 location where there also stands on the corner of Oakwood and Drexel a home worth well over a million dollars.
Ms. Taylor, please bring us up to date on some of the housing issues facing people on the South Side of Chicago, and fill us in on how you are involved and what organizations you are affiliated with.
Currently, I am involved on three levels of housing issues. First, there is our tenant association— Lake Park East (LPETA). LPETA advocates on behalf of the 98 residents. Currently we are addressing a Utility Allowance discrepancy. Our management agency has not given us the proper notice to adjust our allowance. The allowance is a credit to our rent and the adjustment has the ability to either raise or lower our rent. However, if management does not follow the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), they are not allowed to make any adjustments. As it stands our management agent has not followed the CFR and we are, with legal assistance, from the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, ensuring that the rights, as set out in the CFR, are followed.
As I branch out into the community, I am also a Volunteer Housing Organizer with Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP), which is based in Woodlawn. As a volunteer, I wear several hats. I participate on the Housing Committee, which consists of five tenant associations. We share best practices and assist in the development of housing policies, procedures, and programs for STOP. Presently, I am assisting Grove Parc (one of our members) with some of their relocation issues.
However, the most devastating issue I am dealing with is the Chicago Housing Initiative’s (CHI) Lease Up Campaign. CHI is a city-wide coalition that consists of seven organizations who advocate to raise the voices of low-income residents. CHI’s members consist of the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Southside Together Organizing for Power, the Metropolitan Tenant Organization, Organization of the Northeast, and Lakeview Action Coalition. We, in working with Logan Square Neighborhood Association, who organize in Lathrop Homes, found that they had 700 vacant units that had been rehabbed, and that CHA was still receiving monthly rents and funds for capital expenditures. We are talking about millions of dollars. As we pursued this, our research found that there were 4,000 apartments(that CHA admitted to). How can this be when residents relocated under the Plan for Transformation were promised one for one replacements—one for one hard units. But the CHA has been using vouchers rather than units to reach their housing replacement numbers. In fact, the tracking of the residents entitled to replacement units has been found to be very lacking, after millions were invested to track the residents.
As we began to delve in the Move To Work (MTW) plan that CHA was under, what we found was alarming enough for us and we began to request meetings with officials, all the way up to our traveling to Washington, D.C. and requesting that Assistant Secretary Sandra Henriquez take a tour with us. All to no avail, as the State and City were under contract with MTW and this allowed them to receive this money without servicing the residents.
It is my understanding that there was a rather newsworthy demonstration outside of the City Council chambers on Wednesday, October 3rd this year?
On October 3rd, we had a press conference to expose our research findings and ask the Mayor to intervene and stop this scandal before it became a 2012 campaign issue. In the end, we flooded the Council Chambers chanting “meet with CHI.” Unfortunately, requesting a meeting with the Mayor is a complicated process. Sad to say, on October 12, we had to escalate and rallied in front of the Mayor’s Office to again request that he meet with us. We want to ask him to place a moratorium on the demolition of over 600 habitable units in Altgeld Gardens. Oh, yeah, there are over 600 units there that are receiving rents and capital expenditures since the Plan for Transformation. Millions of dollars. Everyone was perplexed by this move: why would they ruin a cash cow? Well, we found that in addition to receiving fungible funds from Housing and Urban Develop (HUD) for the apartments (vacant units), CHA also receives funds for replacement housing under the Replacement Housing Factor (RHF). So, CHA will receive even more money under this factor. Demolished property receives millions of dollars for demolished sites. Who gets such a sweetheart deal in this economy? Especially with a huge homeless population, a huge waitlist, huge numbers of renters who can’t afford to pay the high rents in the City of Chicago. This campaign has such far-reaching implications.
I circle back to my assistance with Grove Parc. There are those in West Woodlawn who have adopted the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) attitude about Grove Parc residents being relocated into their area. They are in the process of asking for a moratorium on vouchers in Woodlawn and allude to the residents being transferred from Grove Parc. This is confusing, as those residents are transferring to units developed by POAH (Preservation of Affordable Housing) at the former Grove Parc site.
We have received great media coverage (prime time news and print). Yet Mayor Emanuel has not met with us. Perhaps it’s because he is in the process of dismantling the safety net, and he’s just too busy right now.
I have heard the acronym PETRA quite a bit what do those letters stand for? Will PETRA benefit Chicagoans seeking housing?
The problem is that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) wants to get out of the housing of low-income individuals. In 2006 they started with PETRA, Preservation, Enhancement, and Transformation of Rental Assistance. HUD invited residents, advocates, and management agents to Washington to gain community support. Didn’t happen. They sent Barbara Sard to Chicago to attempt to iron out the issues. Didn’t happen. The name changed to TRA, Transforming Rental Assistance, then on to the Keith Ellison Bill, today it is RAD – Rental Assistance Demonstration. See this link: http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/ huddoc?id=HR-2112-RAD-Language. pdf. The objective for HUD is to merge the various (13) subsidized programs into one (1). The process is to start—I repeat—start with Public Housing. What we have here is the deregulation of subsidized housing and the issues we face with CHA are the fallout. As usual, there was not any real community support for the programs. Money is being sent to the cities without any regulations, because it’s experimental—a demonstration. They want to see if it will work. They say. It sounds more like, we’ll give you the money, we don’t care how you do it, just make it work, and sign here. CHA is and has been operating in a fiscally irresponsible manner, and the only ones who will suffer are the low-income residents. Under the RHF, CHA is privatizing public housing by allowing developers to receive their funds from the RHF. It’s part of the mixed income model, a model which has to date not been shown to work. Nonetheless, everyone benefits from HUD dollars but the residents.
Ms. Taylor, I cannot thank you enough for your candid remarks and openness. I hope this information will reach the ears and eyes of all of us involved with adequate housing and bring about changes that are beneficial to humanity. Lastly, you usually end your conversations with a proverb, will you share it with us please.
Yes. Silence is consent. ◊