New public housing community leaders pledge strong stance

The city wide council of public housing leaders elected to represent residents has a new board of directors that some say will take a tougher stand in discussions with the Chicago Housing Authority.

The new officers of the Central Advisory Council, President Myra King, vice president Francine Washington, secretary Willie Burrell, treasurer Crystal Palmer, and sergeant at arms Natalie Saffold, took office this week.

Burrell says this new board wants more community involvement and will not be afraid to buck the CHA when necessary.

"We are not afraid to ask questions. We don't just accept the answers," says Burrell. "We're not people that are just going along to get along."

The council advises the Chicago Housing Authority on developing public housing policy. It's made up of all the presidents from every housing development in Chicago. They, in turn, elect officers to lead the organization.

"The CAC is the voice of the tenants. They're role is to continually remind CHA of real life effects that the policies have on the residents," says Nicki Bazer, housing attorney with the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, which provides legal services to the poor.

When the CHA began its Plan For Transformation, the 10-year-old effort to remake public housing by closing many developments, the CAC fought for a relocation rights contract that would guarantee residents the right to return to public housing.

Without the contract, says Rich Wheelock, another attorney with the Legal Assistance Foundation, says a lot of families wouldn't have made it back.

Wheelock says he's excited about what this board will do.

"I think they will have an even more articulate and forceful vision," says Wheelock. "They're all independent thinkers and have been long time public housing advocates. I think they're going to serve the residents well."

Saffold says her colleagues Myra King and Francine Washington are younger than previous leaders, and she hopes it brings more energy and vigilance to the board.

"I believe they will keep up the fight for public housing," says Saffold.

Bazer says both King and Washington have been tireless advocates for residents in their own communities.

King, who is the president of Trumbull/Lowden Homes Local Advisory Council, will bring her sharp intelligence to the board, says Bazer.

"I've always been impressed with her ability to really cut through the noise and get to the heart of the issue," she says.

Washington, who used to the president at Stateway Gardens, still keeps in touch with all the former residents and is the person they come to when they need help.

"She always tries to help them," says Bazer. "If it got to me, it was because the seven ways Francine tried to help didn't work."

King, Palmer and Washington were not available for comment for this article.

Deverra Beverly, former CAC president, was defeated by King in a 9 to 7 vote. Beverly says she doesn't know what direction this new board will take, but she wishes them well.

"I hope that whatever we could do, they will be able to do," says Beverly.

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.