CABRINI-GREEN — A community group of some of the last public housing tenants in the Cabrini-Green rowhouses has filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Housing Authority, claiming the CHA reneged on a promise to keep hundreds of housing units.
The residents of those 440 rowhouse units, which are now fenced in and boarded up, agreed to temporary relocate in 2008 so that their homes could be fixed up, but construction never started.
Now, the Francis Cabrini Rowhouses are likely to be torn down and turned into mixed income housing, while those who had agreed to temporarily move away are left out to dry.
As part of the CHA's 2000 "Plan for Transformation," the rowhouses were to be spared from being replaced by "mixed-income communities" and would remain 100 percent public housing.
The first phase of rehabilitation of 146 units was completed in 2009, and those who live there now say the rows of vacant fenced in buildings directly across the street from them are haunting.
April Johnson, a 34-year-old who moved into one of the renovated rowhouses, says her four best friends from growing up in the former Cabrini towers made that "temporary move" so that their homes could be renovated.
"How do you think people feel like, the ones who moved out on the voucher?" Johnson said. "They think they are coming back because they were promised. Some of my friends think they are coming back. A lot of people think they are coming back."
It wasn't until 2011 that the CHA announced for the first time that the rowhouses would not remain public housing, but would be turned into mixed-income housing units.
Johnson's friends, all mothers in their 30s, are spread throughout the city.
"Some are out west, some are down south, but they are in places that they really don’t want to be," Johnson said. "I told them things might change, you might not be able to come back and they say where are we supposed to go?”
Those friends don't know the neighborhoods they've moved in to, and because they thought they would return home, they haven't fully settled in.
"You are in a state of limbo," said Lynell Dillon, a 60-year-old resident who lives in the renovated section of the rowhouses. "That's not a state of mind, that's constant stress. Living in stress."
Many of the former Cabrini residents have taken their housing vouchers and left the city entirely. Dillon said she knew of many who moved to Iowa, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.
"They can't find a place to live in Chicago," said 42-year-old rowhouse resident Pamela Smiley, who said she plans on moving to Iowa.
"I'm over this frustration of where are we going to be next year or tomorrow or the next day," she said. "I just want to move on my own."
CHA released a statement Thursday afternoon stating that the agency is still working with a planner and the Near North Working Group to develop a plan for the future of Cabrini and the row homes.
"In the coming months, CHA will invite CHA residents and area neighbors to provide their input on our proposed plan for the revitalization of Cabrini," the statement read. "Our goal is to increase the quality of life and economic opportunities for CHA residents and the entire community."
The lawsuit filed against the CHA Thursday morning seeks to protect the rowhouses from destruction and force the agency to hold up its end of the promise to renovate the final 440 rowhouse units.
"This is an area that low-income residents cannot afford with vouchers and CHA is trying to remove public housing from this area of opportunity and the North Side generally," said Elizabeth Rosenthal, an attorney with the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago.
CHA's decision to go back on their promise perpetuates segregation, according to Rosenthal.
"There is no other place in the city where public housing residents have a greater opportunity than where we are currently located on the North Side," said Carol Steele, president of the Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Council. "The rowhouses were replacement units when the towers came down."