Residents Question CHA’s Plans for Altgeld | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Residents Question CHA’s Plans for Altgeld

A new library is coming to Altgeld Gardens, a public housing development on the southern edge of Chicago. But not all patrons are happy with the location and how the decision was made. It's not the first time residents have been dissatisfied with decision making.

Atlgeld Gardens has the feel of an urban reservation.

The housing community is in an isolated, industrial part of Chicago. Schools, parks, a medical center and laundry facility dot the sprawling 157-acre space.

The Chicago Housing Authority chose to rehab the development instead of turning it into a mixed-income property. The makeover is more than halfway done.

But for residents like Cheryl Johnson, there are a lot of unanswered questions.

JOHNSON: I don't know what the future is because I'm not included into what the decision is about my community. And unfortunately we all is not. Only a few selected few knows, but they don't communicate that back to the community.

Frustration has been brewing at Altgeld for years. The neighborhood high school was converted into a military academy 10 years ago and students must apply to get in. A charter school is coming and that raises similar fears about inclusion.

Then there's the library.

The moldy Altgeld branch has been closed for more than a year. A new one is opening, but it's going into a wing of the Wheatley Parent Child Center.

Residents would rather have a new space rather than a library that encroaches on existing community space. That frustration over all these issues bubbled over at a recent community meeting at Wheatley. City officials tried unsuccessfully to squash concerns.

Community meeting: they won't even accept our kids in that school. They trying to open up a charter school out here and turn this school into a library. We got a bigger…we trying to better our community and ya'll steady trying to shut us down. We got to come together as a people and stick together and fight and talk about these issues. This just can't keep going on like this. As you see we, getting pushing out a lot of things. If we don't hold meetings and don't get together and stick together, it's going to continue.

CHA officials say partnerships with other agencies – whether the park district or social services are necessary. A swimming program at Altgeld is in the works. CHA hopes to snag a summer grant for young people to do urban gardening.

Kris Warren is chief operating officer of CHA.

WARREN: Everybody recognizes that Altgeld can't be successful without all of us coming together and helping it. And helping the people and bringing to the people resources to be successful. And so knowing that we've all been having regular meetings and discussions.

Altgeld Gardens has a lot of open space. Activist Cheryl Johnson sees the potential.

JOHNSON: Why not train these kids about the industrial process in this community? How to do the restoration in this community whether it's forestry or soil remediation. Learn about indoor air quality. Make this an environmentally green community because it's an environmentally contaminated community.

Altgeld was built in 1945 for African-American war industry workers. The surrounding area has historically been home to manufacturing jobs. But over time jobs evaporated. Environmental issues linger. Crime has been an issue.

And it's not just Altgeld residents who feel vulnerable.

PALMER: You're sitting in Golden Gate Park. Our parents had some years ago had to fight the city for and agree to pay extra taxes. 

ambi: Sound from park
Phyllis Palmer lives on the other side of Altgeld in a single-family home community known as Golden Gate. Those homeowners share issues with Altgeld residents.

PALMER: This is a food desert out here. A couple of weeks ago we ran out of sugar at my house. And I went to Rosebud Farms to pay five dollars for a five-pound bag of sugar…it's horrible.

Palmer says the Golden Gate homeowner's association is working on bringing a farmer's market near 130th Street that would benefit Altgeld, too.
Members are also trying to figure out a way to buy nearby, cheap foreclosed properties and turn them into rentals. This South Side community also wants the expansion of the Red Line ‘el' train to run through here as an economic generator.

It's just one more example of residents trying to move away from the isolation.

Music Button:  Maurice Brown, "Merry Go Round", from the CD The Cycle of Love, (Brown Records)

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