Senior public housing residents protest terrible living conditions

August 7, 2013

By Alan Yu

(WBEZ/Alan Yu)
Residents and activists from the North Kenwood community on Chicago’s South Side protested poor living conditions in public housing for seniors. They brought pictures of mould, peeling paint and bedbugs.

Residents in senior public housing on Chicago’s South Side say they are living with mice, bedbugs, cockroaches and other problems.

Seniors and activists from the North Kenwood community protested against poor management outside the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) headquarters today.

Resident Alphonso Jones says they’ve complained before, but managers aren’t doing enough to solve the problems.

“They plugged all the holes, and they put down some sticky pads. Alright, everyone knows that mice are too smart for sticky pads,” Jones said.

Jones also described paint peeling off walls, mold, bedbugs and apartments where he can see the outdoors through holes in the wall. He says some senior residents are disabled and cannot clean their own apartments. The protesters brought placards with pictures, some of which were taken by Jones. He says he wrote over 40 letters to CHA and management, but the only response he got was that if he wrote one more letter, he would be evicted.

Resident Frances Banks says managers only did cosmetic changes without addressing underlying problems.

“It’s like if you have cancer on your face: you put on some makeup, it covers the cancer up, but you still have cancer,” she said.

She eventually moved out, but she says she will continue fighting for public housing tenants.

“I could not stand the roaches, the bedbugs, the mice and the intimidation,” Banks said.

Although the protesters described individual apartments, these problems are widespread, says Princella Lee, a member of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.

In particular, they named Judge Slater Apartments, the Judge Slater Annex and Vivian Harsh Apartments, making up 570 units of public housing in the North Kenwood community. The units are managed by the Woodlawn Community Development Corporation (WCDC), a project of Reverend Leon Finney. At a previous protest this February, residents called Finney a slumlord.

“It’s easy to dismiss this to one tenant but these conditions are prevalent in many of the units on the South Side of Chicago, particularly in WCDC managed buildings,” Princella Lee said. “Let’s not act like we don’t know the history that WCDC and Leon Finney has had in the City of Chicago.”

Finney is a politically connected pastor who used to serve on the city’s planning commission. The protesters said Finney should step down, and that WCDC should not be allowed to manage public housing. They also ask for public housing officials to walk through the buildings with them, and they plan to take the issue to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

In response to the pictures of bed bugs, Chicago Housing Authority spokeswoman Wendy Parks said the agency carries out monthly pest control meetings. She also says Charles Woodyard, the agency’s CEO, will meet with residents this month. Parks says the CHA will be requesting proposals from property management firms interested in managing the public housing complexes, but notes this does not mean they are replacing Finney and the WCDC.

She also points out officials are improving Judge Slater Apartments, where Alphonso Jones lives, in an ongoing construction project. The $13.5-million project would install new plumbing, flooring, lights and paint. The first phase should be complete early next year.

Alan Yu is a WBEZ metro desk intern. Follow him @Alan_Yu039.