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Residents Forced To Leave Atrium Village: 'My Kids Could End Up Dead'

By Mina Bloom | August 17, 2016 5:50am
 Kimberly Dale holding up a notice from developer Onni Group, which says she has five months left in her apartment before crews tear down her building.
Kimberly Dale holding up a notice from developer Onni Group, which says she has five months left in her apartment before crews tear down her building.
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DNAinfo/Mina Bloom

NEAR NORTH SIDE — If Kimberly Dale is forced to leave her home on the Near North Side, she fears she might have to move her five children to a dangerous neighborhood similar to where they once lived, even if temporarily.

While living in North Lawndale a few years ago, Dale and her children were struggling to survive.

Dale and her ex-husband were routinely getting into violent arguments that brought the city's Department of Family and Support Services to their doorstep. Outside of the home, the constant threat of gun violence, as well as the under-performing schools and hospitals, had a harrowing effect. 

Dale's twins were experiencing health problems: Her daughter, Kimora, was getting in trouble at school for social and behavioral issues, while her son, Parnelius, kept suffering from seizures. Doctors and teachers on the West Side blamed the violence for both conditions, which left Dale feeling helpless, she said.

 The Atrium Village Development will include 1,500 housing units.
The Atrium Village Development will include 1,500 housing units.
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Onni Group

Things improved dramatically in 2012 when Dale split with her husband and moved her family from the West Side to Atrium Village, 300 W. Hill St., a mixed-income housing complex on the Near North Side.

She promptly took the twins to new hospitals, where they were properly diagnosed — her daughter with Asperger's syndrome and her son with epilepsy.

"Finally, when I moved to the [Near North Side] they did studies," Dale said.

She also enrolled them at Ogden Elementary School, where they have continued to flourish.

"When I transferred [my daughter] to Ogden, everything changed," Dale said. "She just blossomed into this beautiful young lady. She has lunch with her principal. When she gets upset, she knows how to handle it. Before when she was out west, she would be aggressive. She didn't see positive reinforcement until she came to [Ogden]."

Now Dale, along with dozens of other residents in the four low-rise buildings, are being forced to leave the housing complex they love for a year so crews can tear down the buildings and build new ones in their place as part of a massive redevelopment project. Residents were issued a notice earlier this summer that says they must be out within seven to eight months.

Dale is afraid she and her neighbors will have to move back to dangerous neighborhoods — even if it's temporary, which has left her feeling helpless yet again.

"Everything is here," Dale said of the Near North Side. "If I lose [the home], I'll be uprooted. I'll have to move back to the West Side."

"My kids could end up dead. Something bad could happen. They're not used to certain environments anymore."

Dale, who works part-time as a tax specialist, was able to move into Atrium Village using Chicago Housing Authority's "enhanced voucher."

The voucher protects working residents of longtime affordable housing buildings when those buildings turn over and become less affordable. It allows them to pay no more than 30 percent of their income despite changes to the building.

Canadian-based developer Onni Group bought the seven-acre, nine-building Atrium Village site from the original owner with plans to build 1,500 units, which is five times the amount Atrium Village offered. 

Crews have already torn down the low-rise towers at the Southwest corner of Wells and Division streets.

Brian Brodeur, development manager at Onni Group, said his company's "preference is to keep as many residents on-site as possible" during the teardown.

But he said the site's remaining 200-unit building is nearly full.

"We are working with the existing conditions of what rental stock is left on site," he said. "It's not like we have an empty building."

Brodeur said his team never promised any residents that they would be remain on site during construction. But real estate blog Curbed reported in June of last year that the project called for "five phases of construction staged in a manner which will allow the existing residents to remain on site while offering everyone the opportunity to move into the new phases before any residential demolitions occur."

Brodeur said his team is planning to help those residents find new housing, but he said he couldn't "guarantee a certain price point in the neighborhood."

Shelly Aguirre, 45, is another "enhanced voucher" resident in Atrium Village.

She said there's a waiting list to get into other similar buildings on the Near North Side.

"Everything is going to be West of Halsted," Aguirre said of the temporary housing options. "I don't want to live there. I can't. There's no way."

Aguirre has been living in the complex for about three years with her son. She works full-time as a hairstylist, where she makes all of her money in commission.

"Every year is different for me," she said. "I don't get any financial help from his father."

There are a total of six residents using "enhanced vouchers" in Atrium Village, according to Molly Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the CHA. The rest is a mix of market-rate and affordable housing residents.

Once Atrium Village is redeveloped, those "enhanced voucher" residents will be allowed to return to the newly renovated apartments using the same vouchers, meaning their rents won't go up, Sullivan said.

The CHA doesn't help residents with "enhanced vouchers" find temporary housing. But all buildings are required under fair housing regulations to accept the voucher, Sullivan added.

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., whose 27th ward includes the complex, said his goal is to help Atrium Village residents stay in the neighborhood during this transitional period.

"I don't blame any of these parents," Burnett said. "These other neighborhoods are scary. They're killing kids.

"How easy is it for a single woman to find a decent, safe apartment in the city?" 

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