Friday, January 20, 2012

Gaper's Block: "Housing & Crime in Uptown"

Shelly Friede, a single mother of three, looked a high-ranking member of the Conservative Vice Lords street gang in the eye and asked a question.

"Are you trying to shoot my children?"

That was seven years ago, when Friede first moved into subsidized housing in the 4400 block of North Magnolia in Uptown. Her 24-unit courtyard building stood in Black P Stone Ranger territory and had been riddled with bullets from a drive-by shooting by the rival Vice Lords.

This is how a very eye-opening article in Gaper's Block begins.  It tells about the millions of dollars in TIF and developer funds that certain agencies have received, but how they are still housing tenants who have aggregated criminal charges against them.
Cook County court records show that as of July 2009, nearly 100 residents with addresses at eight properties managed by the Community Housing Partners pairing have faced more than 150 criminal charges.

The two companies have also received a share of close to $21 million in TIF funds and more than $3 million in developer fees since 2006, according to City of Chicago Department of Community Development.

"And yet," said community activist Katharine Boyda about the agency, "they are not responsible for maintaining safe, affordable housing."

It's a very interesting read.  It points out that some of the gangs' most vulnerable victims are their neighbors in badly-managed subsidized housing, who live in fear of the thugs in the next apartment:
Only homeowners signed the letter because other residents of subsidized housing "fear retribution, especially from violent people," Boyda said.

There's even an interview with former alderman Helen Shiller -- who awarded all that Wilson Yard TIF money to the housing providers -- saying that the reason criminals continue to live in publicly funded housing is that the Uptown People's Law Center provides their legal defense.  She also suggests that the real problem in Uptown is "polarization among scattered-site residents and property owners."

(Oh, Helen. You're nothing if not predictable.  We tend to think that the fear, woundings and deaths caused by bullets flying on our main streets at all hours of the day and night is the real problem, but you've got your script... and your home in leafy Andersonville.)

Read the entire story here.  It's honest and it hits home.  It may be because the writer, Ronnie Reese, is an Uptown resident himself.   He's a good investigative reporter; we'll watch his career with great interest.


  1. I'm all for removing many of these units. I'll never understand why there is such a high concentration of these buildings in such a small area.

  2. TC,

    around 1994 a federal judge ordered the CHA to start building scattered site housing in neighborhoods that weren't majority black.

    Land values and racial patterns dictated that Uptown, Edgewater, Ravenswood, Rogers Park and Humboldt Park got the vast majority of the new construction. Also we had plenty of vacant lots at the time.

    The red brick CHA buildings you see scattered throughout Uptown are the result of that court order.

  3. All these subsidized housing units harbor proven criminal activity. They all need to be investigated and searched and run under strict security control. Time and time again they have proven to cause unsafe and unhealthy conditions to the good and lawful neighbors that live around and close to them.

  4. No, Wiseguy, not "all" housing units are proven to harbor crime. Where do you GET this stuff?!

    I live next door to scattered site housing and they are great neighbors. We always say hi, and during the last snow, one young man came out and shoveled not only his walk, but that of an elderly neighbor and then he helped me shovel my walk. I offered to pay him and he said that he was young and healthy and strong and just happy to help.

    There was one family who caused problems and were evicted, many years ago. Since then, that building has been exemplary. BTW, the people who lived there were totally freaked out by the drug dealing family and the gangs who hung out in their place. They were too afraid to even take their trash out at night. So the majority of people who live there are good people and have even more reason to want the bad guys out of there.

    How about keeping the housing and getting rid of the thugs and the lousy management instead?

  5. The lousy management being, at least throughout much of Sheridan Park, the Woodlawn Community Development Corp.

    There has been an excellent series of investigative reports released recently concerning the WCDC and the affiliated TWO (The Woodlawn Organization). Their leader, Leon Finney, has overseen $300 million in grants thanks to political clout amassed over many decades.

    But the operation is not going well. Workers are going unpaid, they can't keep the heat on in some of their buildings, and now they're accused of misusing and misallocating grant money. But don't worry, Finney is doing just fine.

    Kicking gang members out of their properties in Uptown might not be their foremost concern right now.

    Chicago Reporter article

    And another

    NBC Chicago

    The Trib

  6. IrishPirate...

    Yes, you are correct. I'm aware of the tearing down and scattering of the public housing in Chicago, but why does is seem like there are 4-5 of these smaller units on every block in uptown? It just seems like there are so many of these units. Rather than a huge high rise building, there are many smaller units in roughly the same amount of space.

    One major problem, as the article stated, there isn't much anyone can do unless there is criminal activity on/in the unit and it is witnessed.

    Just to be clear, for sure many of these individuals living in these are fine, decent people. But when you have these types of buildings and tons of them in a small area, you are going to have trouble like we are having.

  7. And then there is Helen Shiller, aka The AlderJackass, trying to keep the class war going... while she lives on a beautiful street with NO section 8 housing for years in Andersonville...she is nothing put a vile, horrible, hateful pig... and Satan is just waiting for her for all the pain and suffering she brought against us regular folks to protect those in gangs (remember The Reader article last month folks!)

  8. but you've got your script... and your home in leafy Andersonville.

    .. not to mention that sweet public pension.

    Helen does have her script, and it boils right down to: "It's not my fault".

    That should be her epitaph.

  9. I live in subsidized housing, I am a single mother of 3, I work full time and go to college. I know that most of my neighbors are not gang bangers, they do hang out around the building however, despite efforts by conscious people living also in subsidized housing. So removing all these units would disenfranchise hard working people like myself and many of my neighbors and much more than that our children. We pay rent,taxes,are involved in our community, and suffer the same threat of violence that everyone does in Uptown. I am tired of the demonization of people living in these units .In addition, I have been living in Uptown for over 17 years, and it is what it is. I did not come here sight unseen; I knew the social issues here before I moved. I was not drawn to Uptown because I got a subsidy I was already here working 2 jobs to feed my family and paying high rent. Shiller should not be anyone's scapegoat, she did the best she could and I know over 100 stories of people she helped that went on to owning their own homes, getting their education and keeping their kids out of gangs. I have an idea, why don't you look at what the current alderman is doing. Looking backward and blaming is not conducive to positive humane change for the common good of all people in Uptown.

  10. @indigojade: I'm not sure that you quite got the gist of the post and the article in Gaper's Block...there might be a few troglodytes here in UU that wave their hands dismissively and say that all subsidized housing should go...but I think the vast majority of us know that there are a lot of good people in subsidized housing who really need it, who don't abuse the system, and who live in fear when other residents (and visitors) become unnecessary threats. If you aren't causing problems and you aren't taking advantage of taxpayer largesse when you have the capability to pull your own weight without help...then no reasonable people would tell you to go away. But in the same way that a town like Kennilworth that has only 1%'ers as residents doesn't have a grasp on what the other 99% live through, a neighborhood that consists mostly of low-income and very low-income residents reinforces a mindset of poverty and "us-versus-them" that doesn't encourage those residents to reach for something better. A mix of different people is always healthier.

    As far as Shiller goes, I'm glad that she helped a few people...but her record is just as clear that she harmed just as many. It is never good public policy to give tax dollars away without building a consensus that it's the right thing to's even worse public policy to give tax dollars away to organizations and entities that have long records of problems and failures--you reward the failures, and that's precisely what Shiller did repeatedly. I don't expect perfection from elected officials any more than I expect perfection from myself, but to blatantly disregard her higher obligations to the greater good--repeatedly--and to not ask for better accountability and performance from those entities was and is totally unacceptable. She threw too many defenseless people to the wolves under the guise of defending "her sheep", and her karma will be paying for that for a long time to come. That is a worse fate than people continuing to kick her in the shins for her failures...but if she wants to stop getting kicked in the shins, then she either needs to make amends or she needs to stop shooting herself in her own feet by talking about herself. It's that simple.

    One last thing. Don't open yourself up for criticism by talking about having lived here for 17 years, paying rent and taxes, and being involved in the community...because you WILL have someone like me responding that *I* have been here for 19 years, that I've paid rent AND I'm paying a mortgage (and that your rent is a fraction of what I paid and pay), that I pay property taxes (which you don't) and other taxes more, and that many of us are just as involved--if not more so--in the community than you are. That doesn't mean that I'm any better than you--or any worse. It means that I'm taking responsibility for myself at a level commensurate with my capabilities--which is what I think ALL of us have asked for, and what I think Shiller was very adept at saying "wasn't necessary" in so many words (and actions). You're getting an idea, really, about what it was like for so many of us to get thrown under the bus by Shiller...but if you step up to the plate to take responsibility (like you seem to have done) for yourself and insist that others around you take responsibility for their actions that impact their neighbors of WHATEVER stripe, then you don't have a thing to worry about from those of us who refuse to tolerate poor management at taxpayer-subsidized apartment buildings and the behavior by those building managers that aids and abets crime.

    Make a difference.

  11. One other thing--Shiller gets demonized because she demonized others herself. She probably will be demonized for a long, long time, since her policies and actions are literally memorialized in concrete, brick, and mortar...and her urban planning mistakes and urban social engineering experiments may never get fully-repaired. We all live with them every single day.

  12. Shiller is, and will always be, the AlderJackass.

  13. First of all, why would you practically hand out a person's address who has to live among these people- some of whom are gang members who live in those buildings with their kin- people who fly under the radar?! I happen to know Shelly, she sticks out there being white and she is single- are you trying to make her a moving target? It seems more like you are trying to call attention to these buildings than to the injustice suffered by some people who have to live there- who are NOT criminals and have to deal with people who deny allegations of abusing the situation there. I've witnessed such abuse while visiting there: people who have 3 bedroom units and have well over 6 people living there who never go to bed at night, play music all night, and allow their children to stay awake all night, while various individuals traipse in an out all night through the back door! And the noise? Don't even get me started on that- the people who perpetrate this crap go straight the management and deny any allegations against them!These are the very people you are trying to expose- a little more discretion would have been appropriate.I agree with the guy who said the management needs to go because it seems to me that they are part of the problem here.I mean, who's to say they aren't criminals, too? And furthermore, they should be investigated- the people who live in this subsidized housing, contrary to the new wave of thought, are not somehow "lucky" to be there. They went in out of need- it takes years to get in, but it's interesting how easy it is to say that when you own property, are fortunate enough to be educated and have a decent paying job, and are not a single parent. It's extremely easy to make judgments about what people "should do" when you are not poor, not a woman, and especially when you are not a minority, because all of those things impede your ability to get a good job and keep it. If you don't believe me, just look around you, why are people occupying Wall Street? Because the cards ARE stacked against them and poor folks are being blamed. The subsidized housing in Uptown is NOT the problem: the problem is management of it and policing of it. I know this as a former resident of Uptown in the early seventies, I can see the gentrification taking place and it's exacerbated in scale because of the current class wars we are experiencing politically. I can see that some of you well-meaning liberal types seem to be shedding light upon the troubles in the subsidized housing as it relates to the larger issues of gang violence and other crime in the neighbor- but a lot of this stuff has been present before the subsidies were ever in place. What's happened is Uptown's poor was enabled by the local governance to flourish through these TIF deals- this stuff doesn't get poor people out of poverty: it keeps them there. What helps people is jobs, job security and opportunities to make a living wage- not minimum wage that will never pay standard market rates. TIF is another weird charade brought to us by local government hoping to get more money out of low-rent buildings and areas. Instead of taking money from the state or the Feds to do something about fighting crime, improving public education, and providing real solutions for communities like community gardens or playgrounds, we get TIF, a great deal for Landlords who are already flush with cash, but get a nice break if they cooperate and use subsidized funding if they are private ownership! As you can see, there are private management firms sitting pretty with funding coming in from the government! You wanna do something? Attack them!!

  14. Emily, you DO get that this article appeared on the Gaper's Block website and that UU did not write it?

    If you have questions about the validity of the article, as it appeared on the Gaper's Block website, click on the link and make a comment over there.

    Scolding the author on a blog he doesn't write for is counterproductive, don't you think?