CHA security cuts anger some in mixed-income project

Trespassing, drunkenness, domestic disputes and loud arguments over lots of money – these are the reasons some inhabitants of a Near West Side mixed-income community think they need more funds for security guards, not less.

But the Chicago Housing Authority is declining to pay $15,000 it promised toward this year’s $83,000 bill for security at Westhaven Park Tower, says Kathy Quickery, president of the building’s condo association. Without that $15,000 a security guard will be posted 20 fewer hours per week.

Quickery and other residents urged the CHA Board of Commissioners at a meeting today to restore the security funding.

“It’s like, are you kidding me? We need more,” says condo owner LaTasha Gardner.

Other residents say security isn't a problem. Bobby Hearns, a CHA resident who’s lived in Westhaven Park Tower for about a year and a half, says it's a quiet building. Another CHA resident, David Harris, agreed.

Westhaven Park Tower, 100 N. Hermitage Ave., stands on the site of one of the old Henry Horner buildings. It opened in April 2006, and in that first year, the CHA paid $8,000 toward security. In 2007 it paid $15,000, and the condo association expected the same for 2008.

In early December the condo association board learned the agency probably would refuse to pay. The CHA sent official word on Feb. 6, says Quickery.

Quickery says the building's developer had given her two explanations for the cut -- that the CHA had lost some federal funding and was trying to economize, and that the agency believed the number of elderly residents in the building reduced the need for security.

CHA spokesman Brian Zises says he doesn't know whether the $15,000 security supplement has, in fact, been cut, or what process exists to reinstate it.

Some of the security incidents recorded at the building seem more like nuisance complaints: loud music, throwing water off the balcony, littering. Others are more severe. Condo owners Nancy and Ian Swope say they have called the police twice since moving in nine months ago. The first time they heard a woman screaming in the night, and someone throwing her around the apartment. The second time they heard two men arguing over tens of thousands of dollars, presumably drug money.

CHA residents accounted for 33 of the security incident reports compared to eight for homeowners, Quickery says.

CHA residents occupy about 30 percent of the 113 units in Westhaven Park Tower.

It’s not all, or even most of the CHA residents, who create problems. Quickery noted one CHA resident racked up eight incidents of the 33 reported. Other CHA residents share the homeowners’ concerns about propped doors and noise, says Jamie Kalven, a consultant to the Henry Horner Homes residents' committee.

“That means it’s actually a very small percentage of the building,” Kalven says.

Zises says the company managing the building should remove public housing residents who create problems.

“I’m concerned that there’s a different standard being created from someone who receives a subsidy,” he says. “I’m concerned the management company isn’t taking the necessary steps to resolve it.”

Assessments on condo owners pay for the bulk of the building’s security. They have risen 15 percent in the last year. (The CHA pays the assessment on residents’ units.) The Swopes’ assessment on their one bedroom went from $262 to $322 since they moved in last May, and it’s money they didn’t plan on having to pay.

At today's board meeting Westhaven Park Towner condo owner Kenneth Richings said the CHA’s $1.6 billion plan to build mixed-income communities, “while noble in the abstract, will face the unforgiving reality that homeowners will move rather than have 30 percent of their assessments go toward security to ward off problems generated by a minority of residents … Once owners start selling their units, or as more and more units become rentals, the more likely it is that this mixed-income experiment will fail.”

Also at today's meeting, the board awarded a $4.8 million contract for design consultation to CSA Great Lakes, an engineering services company, and voted to pay $4.1 million for a two-month extension to Quadel Consulting Corporation's contract for administering the CHA's voucher program.