After her grandson was fatally shot in the lobby last December, Josephine Trotter has had bittersweet feelings about moving from her home at 412 W. Chicago Ave., in the Chicago Housing Authority's Cabrini-Green project.
The building, which will close this month, has been her home for more than 10 years. She doesn’t want to go, but it’s also hard to stay.
“Ever since my grandson got killed in this building, I don’t really have much heart for it,” says Trotter. “I hate to move from here. But when you don’t have no money or nothing, you have to do what you’re told.”
The Chicago Housing Authority told Trotter and 21 other families that they would have to move out of 412 on March 19 as part of an emergency transfer situation, motivated by concerns at CHA that the building wasn’t safe.
“The low occupancy of the building, as well as the criminal activity near there, contributed to the CHA's decision to initiate closure activities at the building, in order to protect the health, safety and welfare of the CHA's residents,” says Matt Aguilar, CHA spokesperson.
Although the building has more than 60 units, only 22 families live there. Those vacant units create space for gang members to hang out and to store guns and weapons, says 18th District police Commander Steve Georgas.
One less building for police to patrol will help 18th District officers provide better security for residents, he says.
“Anytime we can decrease vacant units and increase occupied units, that’s a plus for us,” says Georgas. “We can take our resources and consolidate the in other areas.”
The building has seen increased gang activity as a result of turf wars between factions of the Gangster Disciples living in 412 and the Cabrini Rowhouses nearby. Two young men were slain last year as a result – Mrs. Trotter’s grandson, Jacoby Blake, 22, on Dec. 8 and Orlando Thomas, 22, on Sept. 3.
But some residents say conditions at 412 – both gang violence and poor physical conditions – aren’t any worse than in other parts of the city.
“They’ve got crime all over this damn city. You don’t see them closing those buildings,” says Carol Steele of the Coalition to Protect Public Housing. “It’s crazy because they’re not doing right by people.”
Tension arises over new neighbors
Steele, Trotter and Kelvin Canon, the president of the local advisory council at Cabrini-Green, suspect that violence and maintenance problems aren’t the only factors leading CHA to close 412. A new condo building, 825 W. Hudson Ave., sits just north of 412 and across from the rowhouses. Steele says residents who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for their new condos aren’t content living next to public housing residents.
“They’re moving people out because Cabrini has interfered with their great redevelopment plans for selling houses for millions of dollars,” says Steele. “Because we’re here, the place isn’t marketable.”
Only seven of 825 N. Hudson’s 19 units have been sold, says Janet Fitzpatrick, a realtor with Koenig and Strey GMAC real estate. But Fitzpatrick says neither she nor owners or residents of the new building have anything to do with closing 412.
“Residents here have no effect on what the city does,” says Fitzpatrick.
She also says when the new condo residents bought their units, they knew they were close to existing public housing.
“Some people are uncomfortable with it, but those people pretty much walk away right away (from making a deal),” says Fitzpatrick.
But Canon says developers and owners have connections that public housing residents don’t, and they can influence CHA’s decision making. Aguilar says the decision to close 412 is “not connected to 825 in any way.”
Fitzpatrick says she’s heard the building will be demolished by June, although Aguilar says CHA doesn’t know when 412 will be knocked down. Canon says no one should have any idea when 412 would come down because that decision would have to be negotiated between CHA and Cabrini’s local advisory council.
The families living in 412 can move into two other Cabrini buildings at 364 and 365 W. Oak. Many families may relocate there before taking a Section 8 voucher, says Aguilar. Some residents may move into Parkside of Old Town, two new mixed-income buildings at Cabrini, he says.
But Canon says most of 412’s residents won’t qualify because of the work requirements for mixed-income units. He says the troubled economy makes it hard for anyone to find a job right now.
“In essence, public housing is like a safe haven,” says Canon. “If they went to Parkside or another mixed-income community, they would be put out. That would make Chicago’s list of homeless people much greater.”
Trotter herself will move into 364 W. Oak with her four grandchildren. She will take a Section 8 voucher for awhile, but what she wants most of all is to stay at Cabrini, where she’s lived for almost 32 years.
“I don’t feel that I’m supposed to move anywhere else but here,” says Trotter. “Hopefully, God will look out for me. That’s all I can ask for.”
Staff Writer Megan Cottrell covers public housing for the Daily News. She can be reached at 773-362-5002, ext. 12.