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Tenants Sue Chicago to Stay in Cabrini-Green

CHICAGO (CN) - Chicago's plan to turn what remains of the infamous Cabrini-Green housing project into mixed-income housing will force families to move to poor, segregated neighborhoods, residents claim in court.

The Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Council and public housing tenants Carol Steele, Travaughn Steele, and Gloria Franklin sued the Chicago Housing Authority and its CEO Charles Woodyard in Federal Court.

Cabrini-Green, built between 1942 and 1962, once housed 15,000 people in high-rise apartments that became infamous for gang violence, drug abuse and terrible living conditions.

After too many children fell off of porch railings, the high-rises were enclosed with a steel mesh, making buildings look and feel like a prison. Rotting garbage in trash chutes once piled up to the 15th floor, and cockroaches infested the buildings. Unemployment in Cabrini-Green reached as high as 90 percent, and gangs gained almost complete control over the buildings, the Boston Globe reported in 1992.

In a notorious case in 1997, a 9-year-old girl was raped, poisoned and left for dead with graffiti scribbled on her body in a Cabrini-Green stairwell.

All the Cabrini-Green high-rise apartment buildings were razed between 2002 and 2011.

"In 2000, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) embarked on a massive 'Plan for Transformation,' with the goal of (a) tearing down all its high-rise public housing developments in Chicago and replacing them with mixed-income communities and (b) rehabilitating other, non-high rise developments that had fallen into disrepair," the plaintiffs say in their new complaint. "As part of the plan, the CHA promised to redevelop 25,000 units of new public housing through a combination of rehabilitation and new construction.

"The Plan for Transformation provided that the Francis Cabrini Rowhouses were to be rehabilitated, not torn down, and that they would remain 100 percent public housing. In December 2006, the CHA issued the first set of relocation notices to Rowhouse residents to relocate temporarily, in preparation for the rehabilitation of their units. Many families relied on these notices and moved, anticipating a temporary absence while their units were rehabilitated. Relocated residents who did not take permanent housing choice vouchers have a right of return to the Rowhouses.

"Four phases of rehabilitation were planned, but only one phase - 146 units - was ever completed, in 2009.

"On September 15, 2011, the CHA announced for the first time that the Rowhouses would not be redeveloped as 100 percent public housing, but rather would be turned into mixed-income housing, which significantly reduces the units available for public housing residents.

"In reneging on its promises to retain the Rowhouses as 100 percent public housing, the CHA will eliminate several hundred units of low-income public housing from the North Side of Chicago, an opportunity area with low poverty, good schools, good access to transportation, low crime, and diverse employment opportunities.

"The CHA intends to make up for this loss of housing in a vibrant neighborhood by adding public housing units in high poverty, segregated areas of Chicago.

"The CHA's plan to make the Rowhouses mixed-income violates its mandate to affirmatively further fair housing and will have a disparate impact on racial minorities, a protected class under the Fair Housing Act."

Cabrini-Green project is just a mile from Chicago's Magnificent Mile and the wealthy Gold Coast neighborhood, where rents are among the highest in the city.

The Council claims: "In the recent years of the Plan for Transformation, it has been CHA's pattern to remove public housing in areas of opportunity.

"After an initial commitment to keep Lathrop Homes, a historic, low-rise public housing community located on the North Side of Chicago at North Clybourn Avenue and Diversey Avenue, at 100 percent public housing, the CHA reversed course and decided to redevelop Lathrop Homes as mixed-income housing, displacing approximately 500 units of public housing from an economically and racially diverse area.

"Additionally, at the former Henry Horner Homes in the revitalized Near West Side neighborhood, the CHA recently sought to dismantle the one area of 100 percent public housing that had been maintained pursuant to a consent decree, eliminating more than 120 units of public housing.

"According to the CHA's own data, as of September 30, 2011, the CHA had satisfied only 52 percent of Rowhouse families' right to return. This does not include the families relocated after September 1, 2011 and the families whose Right of Return was ostensibly satisfied when they moved into the rehabilitated Rowhouses. Their future is now unclear."

The tenants seek an injunction against the city's plan to convert the Rowhouses into less than 100 percent public housing.

They are represented by Elizabeth Rosenthal with the Legal Assistance Foundation, and Richard O'Malley with Sidley Austin.

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