May 25, 2024
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Read Time:12 Minute, 39 Second

By Nick Blumberg

A.H. is a resident of the Chicago Housing Authority who has lived in West Ridge for many years.

My children enjoy it. Pretty safe, quiet. “The library is right here,” said she.

WTTW News decided to only use her initials out of concern for retaliation or the stigma attached to living in public housing.

A.H. has been a CHA tenant for over 20 years and she’s lived in the unit where she currently lives for over a decade.

The neat brick house A.H. lives in with her family could be put up for sale soon — it’s the only unit of the 2,800 scattered-site units owned by CHA that is potentially available.

These scattered sites consist of affordable housing owned by the Housing Agency, whether they are individual properties or clusters.

The CHA stated in a letter dated June that it expected A.H. and her family would have to permanently move from their home. A.H.’s decision to sell her house is just the latest in a long and tense relationship between her, the CHA, and management companies that have managed her unit.

A.H. stated, “I fought hard to ensure that it was maintained, because if I hadn’t done so, the whole thing would have fallen apart.”

A.H. claimed that the sale of the property is an example of a history of neglect, retaliation and failure to provide proper oversight by the CHA. This pattern was echoed in the claims of four other tenants or residents advocates who live in different neighborhoods and whose properties are managed by two separate firms.

In recent years, Manage Chicago, and Hispanic Housing Development Corporation have also been involved in other controversies related to the management of CHA property.

Demands for maintenance are frequent

A.H. sends frequent requests for maintenance and emails to staff at the CHA as well as Manage Chicago which manages the site apartments in the area. She believes that by demanding upkeep for her house, she has become a target and may now be forced to leave the neighborhood.

WTTW News obtained maintenance records that show multiple incidents of A.H. refusing to allow workers in or having hostile interactions with A.H. In an email exchange between CHA employees, they refer to the “obscene” amount of money spent on “appeasing” A.H. They also describe her “unfounded complaints” as well as her “uncooperative” behavior.

A.H. stated that “Leaseholders should be able to speak out for their homes without having to fear retaliation or harassment. I have also experienced discrimination and slander.” If that is the case, why does this happen? “Why sell a house where there are people living in it when nothing is wrong?”

A CHA spokesperson responded to a WTTW News request for comments by saying that A.H.’s unit was “a unique case in CHA portfolio.”

The statement states that “CHA owns only one condo unit and no condo association is active in maintaining common areas within the building.” Over the last 5 years, CHA responded to hundreds work orders in this unit. This has had a major financial impact on the agency. The number of requests is far greater than at any other CHA unit, and the type of repairs required often requires CHA to get permission from the other building owners to proceed.

Recent work on A.H.’s roof is among the recent repairs of common elements. The agency told WTTW News “the absence of a working condo association makes maintenance hard and it is impossible to replace the roof without this entity.”

In its statement, the CHA stated that roofs must be inspected every year. The agency provided WTTW News only records relating to work done earlier this year on A.H.’s apartment in response to an FOIA request. It did not provide any information about annual inspections and maintenance from years past.

The agency claims in their statement that they are unable to handle the current volume of requests.

The CHA stated that “by way of an example, in 2022 there were only 80 requests for work orders for this condo compared with 14 requests for a condominium similar size.” We determined that this situation was not financially viable.

A.H., a resident of WTTW News told the station that she asks her maintenance workers to show their licenses. She won’t let them perform any work if there credentials are not up to date. She showed pictures of the substandard work she has experienced in the past, such as a flooded cellar, damage to her living room ceiling caused by plumbing in an upper bathroom and what she believes are rat holes outside her house.

I’m not a drug dealer. A.H. stated that they were not tearing down the apartment and having everyone outside. You want me to move because I advocate for my home’s upkeep? What is the logic behind that?

In a statement, the CHA stated that contractors working with its agency were licensed, insured and union-certified. This “defined what level of repair could be done with a license, and our property managers abided by it (example: They can replace or rod a toilet, but not plumbing lines. The CHA said in its statement that all contractors who work with the agency are licensed and insured, and that workers performing “basic maintenance” are union certified. This license defines what level of repairs can be conducted using this license. Our property management companies abide by it (examples: they can rod or replace a toilet but not replace plumbing lines. )”

M.V.S. is a long-time advocate of CHA tenants who asked that we use only her initials. She believes the reason for A.H.’s sale was “untrue.”

She said, “If she had called in so many orders at the same time to fix that apartment, it would have been unnecessary.” The only thing that (A.H. ) wants to do is maintain the apartment in good shape, and this is what is right, as if the unit is not maintained, it’ll fall apart. CHA doesn’t monitor management companies, to ensure that they are doing their jobs.”

When asked about these companies, the CHA responded to WTTW News by saying that “we rely on them to supervise 13,000 units of public housing on our behalf.” The CHA closely monitors these property managers and takes all complaints of non-professionalism and unprofessionalism very seriously. We will conduct an investigation.

Manage Chicago has not responded to any requests for comments.

Organiser threatened with expulsion

People for Community Recovery, an environmental justice organization and tenant rights non-profit founded by Hazel Johnson in 1979 was a result of the efforts of Hazel Johnson. She had been a prominent activist from Altgeld Gardens. This group has been pushing companies and officials for years to reduce pollution. They have also successfully pushed the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) to remove toxic chemicals from land.

Cheryl Johnson is Hazel Johnson’s daughter and now the head of the organization. The nonprofit has been based in CHA’s Altgeld Gardens for 12 years. Manage Chicago also supervises this public housing unit.

Johnson claimed that she was called to a meeting earlier this year and informed her organization had to leave the unit in 60 days so CHA can turn it back to housing.

Johnson, when asked “why”, was told that they just wanted her out. But Johnson, who spoke to WTTW News, said she refused to leave without a written notice or following the proper legal procedures.

Johnson stated, “I told her, ‘Well, I know that it was only a small intimidation, and thought I would just leave because of the verbal notice she gave me.

Four months later, Johnson was notified by a letter that PCR had to leave its office. Johnson told management once more that she would not leave the unit until she had gone through “the normal due process” and was notified by either the court or sheriff department.

Johnson said that WTTW News reported later in the month staff had tried using a drill and pass key to gain access to PCR’s offices without being noticed until a member of staff arrived at the office and asked what was going on.

The Chicago Sun-Times was informed by spokespeople from Mayor Brandon Johnson, and CHA that they would investigate the situation and allow Cheryl Johnson’s group to remain in place. Johnson says she is now in the process negotiating a new lease for the CHA. The group did not previously have one.

Johnson claimed that Manage Chicago lacked the expertise needed to run public housing. He also said those who spoke out would face harassment and intimidation.

They’re not tyrants. Johnson replied, “I do exactly what’s expected of me and I pay my rent every month on time.” If I’m concerned, please address my concerns. You need to fix those things. “But don’t treat me as if you were my God.”

According to the CHA, Johnson’s case is “entirely distinct” from A.H.’s potential home sale.

People for Community Recovery occupies a residential apartment and is not asked to move. CHA took steps to make sure that PCR could continue their work in Altgeld and remain at its current location.

The Senior Residents of Scattered Sites and Other Buildings Cite Similar Issues

Obrey J. Jones has lived in an Uptown mid-rise building for the past 21 years. Jones, who spoke to WTTW News about the situation, said that the current management company has not properly maintained the building for the past decade.

They are on the last legs right now. Jones stated that they should have the ability to live with dignity.

Block Club Chicago reports that Jones and residents of the neighborhood rallied last year to draw attention to problems such as flooding, rodent and insect infestations and no functioning washing machine. They rallied in February to add heating problems to the list.

Jones stated that there is usually only one or two washers and dryers working in the 200+ unit building.

These seniors can’t go out to look for laundromats. Jones stated that most of the seniors were on walkers. They don’t care.

Hispanic Housing Development Corporation manages the building where Jones, his family and neighbors reside. This firm was sued after three elderly people died at a Rogers Park apartment building it managed in a heat wave in May last year.

Delores McNeely (76), Gwendolyn osborne (72) and Janice Reed (68) were discovered dead in a high-temperature day. The staff were warned by management to switch off the heating and use air conditioning in order to cope with the high temperatures. The company paid a settlement of $16 million to the families of the victims earlier this year.

The Sun-Times found, in addition to the charges for dangerous heat, that 15 Hispanic Housing Properties have committed at least 107 violation of the City Building Code since 1996. This includes not enough heating during the winter months.

Jones, a resident of the Uptown Senior Building, says that problems persist, such as inadequate cleaning and unresolved maintenance issues. Residents are also not allowed to access the balcony during the summer. Jones believes that some fellow tenants are afraid of retaliation for complaining about the conditions.

Jones stated that “most of them were afraid to speak up.” I keep telling them that they can’t take you away, but they are afraid.

Hispanic Housing staff “show up without notice, just out of nowhere, on any given day”, said a resident who lives in a unit managed by Hispanic Housing in Montclare.

She said, “Not just one employee but several.” They’ll come knocking on your door… and, if you do not open the door within a specified time period, they will start to use their pass key.

She said that her son was surprised more than one time when he came out of the bathroom to see staff in their house. Herpanic Housing manages her home and many others. She and these other tenants have experienced problems such as mold removal, broken garage door and plumbing issues.

A representative responded to WTTW News’ request for comment by providing a written statement from Hispanic Housing President and CEO Hipolito “Paul” Roldan.

We have been providing affordable housing for Chicagoans in the entire city successfully for 47 years. We are motivated by our commitment to treating every Chicago resident with dignity and respect.

Roldan said in his statement that the company will not comment on any specific complaints from residents to “protect the privacy of those individuals”. He added, however, that the staff at the firm is “highly qualified” and “sensitive to our resident’s needs.” The company follows a strict protocol in order to answer a resident request quickly and professionally.

M.V.S. is the advocate for leaseholders and she says that A.H. wants her to stay with her family in West Ridge.

She said, “I hope they will realize that this is the wrong way to go about things.” She said, “They’re railroading her out and her family so that they won’t have deal with her.”

The CHA responded to WTTW News by saying that if this unit was sold, it would “require a family to relocate to a better, higher-quality unit within the same neighborhood, which can meet their needs.”

The statement went on to say that “the tenant was also informed that the move may not be imminent and that CHA would give adequate notice if and when this occurs.” We understand moving can be stressful, and we are sensitive to your concerns. “We will communicate with tenants regarding any timing and process of a move. We are dedicated to ensuring that the move is comfortable and seamless.”

The agent added that “CHA” is reviewing the full portfolio of scattered sites and plans to make an announcement by the end the year.

A.H. started to cry when she was told that her house might be for sale. She took some time to calm down before responding.

She said, “Oh I was angry.” They come after tenants who speak out. That part hurts because — Where will we go?

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