When the Chicago Housing Authority held its monthly board meeting at LeClaire Courts, a public housing development on the far West side, Natalie Saffold used the opportunity to ask board members about the future of the homes that surrounded them.
“Can you explain to us about what happened to our vision and our working group? It's like our vision no longer exists. What happened?” Saffold, the president of the Local Advisory Council at LeClaire, asked the board yesterday.
Eight years after the Plan for Transformation began, CHA lists the future of Le Claire Courts as “to be determined.” Residents may be waiting until 2014 for something to be done, Saffold says.
Residents say it was just a few years ago that they felt like a part of reshaping LeClaire's future. They formed a working group to discuss the needs and wants of community members for redevelopment, including green spaces, a library, a nearby grocery store and low-rise buildings.
However, after just three meetings, communication with CHA suddenly stopped.
Then, this September, CHA voted not to renew a contract with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for part of the complex, which means about half of LeClaire will close early next year. LeClaire residents have to leave, but Saffold says they shouldn’t have to go without knowing what will be there if they want to return.
Board Chairman, Martin Nesbitt, didn’t have any new information to share with LeClaire residents.
“Everybody's working on that, the board, the staff," Nesbitt said during the recent meeting attended by LeClaire residents. "We're deep in the midst of continuing evaluation and analysis, which is on going.”
Saffold says she isn’t satisfied with that answer.
"I feel hurt and kind of betrayed," Saffold says. "As a resident, I feel the residents of LeClaire should have a right to know what's going to happen with their community. I really think we do deserve an answer.”
CHA earlier this week held another meeting at the LeClaire Court field house, letting residents know their options for moving out of LeClaire – transferring to another CHA development, getting a voucher for private housing, or possibly moving into the half of LeClaire that isn’t closing. CHA’s Website states that about 140 families are living in the half of the development that will close.
Saffold says people have been steadily moving out of LeClaire because they don’t know what’s going to happen. Many are worried they won’t have much of a choice if they wait for CHA to decide, she says.
“A lot of our residents are running scared because they really don't know,” Saffold says. “And I don't much blame them...to hang around at something that you hope may happen, but may not happen, and you don’t know.”
Saffold says CHA officials will do a walk through of LeClaire next week, to determine how empty units on the side that will remain open are fit for displaced residents to move into. She says many residents are choosing to transfer to newer CHA developments, like Roosevelt Square and West Haven Park.
Ruth Todd, a resident of LeClaire Courts for more than 30 years, says she and other residents are frustrated by the lack of information from CHA.
“Some [residents] want to move out to do better things, but a lot of people want to have the option to move back into LeClaire,” Todd says.
Despite her frustration, Todd thinks the closing of half the development will be a good thing, making the community smaller and more cohesive. She says she has high hopes for the future whatever CHA decides.
“LeClaire Courts was a beautiful complex when I moved in, and it can be beautiful again," Todd says.