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Chapter closes on Cabrini-Green high rises

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Chapter closes on Cabrini-Green high rises

Moving out of Cabrini Green (AP/Arbogast)

The high rises buildings at Cabrini Green will be empty tonight. The Chicago Housing Authority confirms the last family living in last occupied unit has moved. But that’s not the end of the story for the housing development on Chicago’s North Side.

Cabrini-Green is one of the most infamous, and most familiar, public housing developments in the country.

A television show – “Good Times” – and a couple of movies – “Cooley High” and “Candy Man” were set amid the sprawling red and white high rises. The on-screen depictions were just one window into Cabrini.

High-profile crimes and disinvestment contributed to Cabrini’s reputation and decline. That’s one reason the Chicago Housing Authority says it’s clearing out the last building. Demolition of Cabrini’s last high rise on North Burling will begin early next year.

JORDAN: The symbolism in closing that last high rise, I think it ends an era of what was … had good intentions initially that just didn’t go right.

Lewis Jordan is head of the Chicago Housing Authority.

JORDAN: We see an opportunity for a new chapter to open up for those families that lived in the Burling building, for the community as a whole.

This so-called “new chapter” at Cabrini has been more than ten years in the making. In the late 1990s, CHA started turning some of its high-rise developments into new, mixed-income communities. The idea was to break up concentrated poverty. Cabrini-Green was the vanguard in this “Plan for Transformation.” Cabrini is on prime land - just a mile from Chicago’s moneyed Gold Coast neighborhood. The redeveloped Cabrini is an engineered mix of expensive townhomes, affordable rentals and public housing units.

That new housing brought new economic development to the once-isolated area.

Annie Ricks has lived in Cabrini for 20 years, and has weathered all the changes. She’s moving out of the last white high rise.

RICKS: I feel bad because like I’m saying, this is like my home. So I really feel bad.

Ricks says CHA let the apartments slide.

RICKS: No, I wouldn’t want to stay in this building that’s rundown as it is but they should’ve made sure that the building didn’t deteriorate and all of this stuff.

While residents like Ricks are being relocated, formal plans have not been made for the land. A working group will be formed to decide what kind of housing should replace the high rises.

The overall Cabrini redevelopment will be completed in 2015. So far, a third of the public housing and half of the market-rate housing is done. Janet Smith is a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who studies public housing.

She wonders whether Cabrini is moving in the right direction.

SMITH: The larger of the redevelopment of Cabrini-Green, which includes a pretty large area – from Chicago all the way up to North Avenue, the river over to the ‘el’ tracks. That area is a large, diverse area and right now it’s got a lot of high income housing and higher income families living there. So why don’t we look at this strategically and figure out how we can fill in some of the places and bring back some public housing, I would argue, instead of get rid of it.

There’s something that’s missing from all the talk of Cabrini’s high-rises coming down and whether more mixed-income homes will arrive. Cabrini has low-rise row houses, and all of those are still standing.

And the residents inside are gearing up to fight to keep those units 100 percent public housing.

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