Residents forced to find new homes after Cabrini building closes

Sherice Wolfe stands outside her old home at 412 W. Chicago Ave, watching as the Cabrini-Green building is gutted before the wrecking ball takes it down later this year.

Wolfe lived in the red-brick public housing building for 21 years before it was closed last month due to concerns about violence and gang activity.

"It's hard to believe that it's gone," says Wolfe, in tears. "[Closing the building] left a lot of people homeless."

The Chicago Housing Authority says all 25 families living in 412 have found a new place to live.

However, Wolfe says the timeline to find a new home was too short, and she thinks about half of the families have ended up in homeless shelters or doubling up with family. In addition, some may be unable to move into new public housing units because of family members with criminal records or other issues.

Wolfe says she's dealt with the same thing with her own 19-year-old son, who's had trouble with the law. She says she knows it hurts her chances of finding a new place to live, but it's a complex situation.

"It's hard for a momma to put her child out," says Wolfe. "He jeopordizes me, but how can I turn him out?"

Wolfe is staying with her sister until her Section 8 subsidized housing voucher comes through, something she hopes will happen in a few months so she can move into her own place.

CHA spokesman Matt Aguilar says of the families living in 412 when it closed, 18 moved to buildings at 364 and 365 W. Oak St. and three are living in new mixed-income replacement housing at Parkside of Old Town. Four other families moved to housing in the private market or relocated elsewhere, according to CHA's tracking system. Aguilar says Wolfe's assessment is wrong.

Other community advocates say they haven't heard of 412's families being put out on the street but are concerned it could be true.

Carol Steele was just elected president of Cabrini's local advisory council and says she is going to find out where everyone has ended up.

"That's something that needs to be talked about," says Steele.

Peter Holsten, developer for Parkside of Old Town, confirmed that three of 412's families have moved in so far, and more applications are being processed. In order to move in, Holsten says, residents have to pass a credit check, criminal background check and drug test, as well as a review of work history and a home visit and interview.

Getting a unit in some of the new mixed-income housing can be difficult for residents, says Stephanie Villinski, a lawyer with the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago. Villinski says a lot of people have already entered into the lottery for the new mixed-income housing, residents whose buildings were torn down years ago.

"If they're not into the lottery at this point, it's going to be tough," says Villinski.

The Chicago Housing Authority closed 412 due to security concerns. One young man had been shot in the lobby and gang activity was prevalent, according to police. Since closing the building, Chicago Police Captain Ken Angarone says that activity has ceased at the building, but hasn't been driven from the neighborhood.

"The building is now secure and empty," says Angarone, acting 18th district commander. "The front is boarded up, the gates are welded shut. There have been no further incidences of violence there."

New graffitti appeared on the building last week, but Angagrone says the symbols are just "tagging," not gang graffiti of any kind. He says the images will be removed from the building soon.

"Taggers take the opportunity to sign anywhere they can," says Angarone. "It will be removed. It just doesn't look good from Chicago Avenue."

According to Aguilar, the building will be demolished sometime this spring or summer, although a final demolition date has not been determined.

Staff Writer Megan Cottrell covers public housing for the Daily News. She can be reached at 773-362-5002, ext. 12, or megan [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.