JANUARY 8, 2014
2 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY
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Welcome to the
HOUSING ISSUE SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY The South Side Weekly is a newsprint magazine produced by students at the University of Chicago, for and about the South Side. The Weekly is distributed across the South Side each Wednesday of the academic year. In fall 2013, the Weekly reformed itself as an independent, student-directed organization. Previously, the paper was known as the Chicago Weekly. Editor-in-Chief Managing Editor
Harrison Smith Bea Malsky
Senior Editors John Gamino, Spencer Mcavoy Politics Editor Josh Kovensky, Osita Nwanevu Stage & Screen Hannah Nyhart Editor Music and Zach Goldhammer Video Editor Visual Arts Editor Katryce Lassle Associate Online Sharon Lurye and Contributing Editor Contributing Editors Ari Feldman, Meaghan Murphy Photo Editor Camden Bauchner Layout Editor Olivia Dorow Hovland Online Editor Gabi Bernard Senior Writer Stephen Urchick Staff Writers Dove Barbanel, Jake Bittle, Bess Cohen, Emma Collins, Lauren Gurley, Emily Holland, Jason Huang, Jack Nuelle, Rob Snyder Staff Photographer Camden Bauchner Staff Illustrators Hanna Petroski, Isabel Ochoa Gold Business Manager
5706 S. University Ave. Reynolds Club 018 Chicago, IL 60637 SouthSideWeekly.com email@example.com
For advertising inquiries, contact: (773)234-5388 firstname.lastname@example.org
Cover art by CHema Skandal!, chemaskandal.com Pictured at right: Frank Lloyd Wright’s George Blossom House. The Weekly will return with regular coverage of South Side arts, culture, and politics on January 22.
nder the name Chicago Weekly, the Weekly has published a Housing Issue for close to a decade. In the past, the issue has been devoted to student renters at the University of Chicago. This year, as part of our reorganization as the South Side Weekly, we're doing something different. Inside you'll find stories relevant to anyone who calls the South Side home. Private development, public housing, and homelessness are all taken up, with an eye to the past as well as to the future. At the site of the old South Works steel plant, for example, plans are being made for the construction of what developers hope to be a new downtown, eighty blocks south of the Loop. Further south, where the Calumet River bends to the west and passes under I-94, one of the last true public housing complexes in the city is organizing to stave off demolition. Elsewhere, we walk you through your rights as tenants of the city of Chicago, and review a few relevant books. Take some time, settle in, and make yourself at home.
“We were the ones shouting during your speech.”
“One gets the sense that there isn’t much room for jake bittle..............4 the starving artist in his onward and upward vision of East Pilsen.” public housing museum
“We want you to figure out a way to remind people that public housing was home.”
“It’s particularly painful to work twice as hard, lose everything, and then be cindy ji..................10 blamed for it.”
“Don’t stigmatize me.”
a dream foreclosed
homeless in cps
frank lloyd wright
“IMC and GMAC, and not George Wallace, represent the modern face of American racism.”
“I think you get a certain distance south, and the central office is like ‘Oh, that’s too far away.’ ”
“I’ve been trying to find a billionaire who wanted a pet building.”
“Many small skirmishes and a few big oversights.”
“Don’t let the fear of retaliation prevent you from exercising your rights.”
lauren gurley......22 patrick leow........24 bea malsky............26
JANUARY 8, 2014 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 3
The New Road
What lies ahead for the Lakeside Development? BY JAKE BITTLE
n the morning of October 26, Rahm Emanuel stood on an imposing stage at the intersection of 79th and South Shore Drive. He was surrounded by a throng of onlookers, cameramen, security guards, and a high school marching band. Behind him, the parking lot of the South Shore Food & Liquor shop, which is usually filled with people chatting, was empty. While the crowd looked on, Mayor Emanuel celebrated the expansion of Lakeshore Drive along the South Side. The extension, which had been under construction for over a year, now runs from 79th Street through the old South Works US Steel plant and down to 92nd Street, where it becomes Avenue O and then US 41. “It shows,” said Emanuel of the new road, “that when you open up a road, a runway, a train line, you unlock all this economic potential, all this economic opportunity.” Emanuel was followed by aldermen, senators, and spokespeople from the Chicago and Illinois Departments of Transportation, all of whom shared optimism about the expanded Lakeshore Drive. “This is more than just bricks and mortar,” said 10th Ward Alderman John Pope. “It’s an opportunity to realize what we all need and want in this side of the neighborhood.” Much of this economic opportunity, the speakers seemed to think, will come from the Lakeside Development, an enormous planned community to be built on the site of the old US Steel plant, through which Lakeshore Drive now runs. The ceremony itself took place on a podium decorated with computer-generated sketches of the development, while several of the speakers who stood on it made nods to McCaffery Interests, the real estate company behind Lakeside. Advertised as a “global initiative for innovative living” and billed as the largest planned community in the country, Lakeside will feature 15,000 residential units, more than seventeen million square feet of “retail, restaurants, commercial, insti4 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY
tutional, and research facilities,” miles of “We don’t need a new road,” said annew parkland, a new high school, and a other woman. “We need jobs. These houses full-service marina. McCaffery Interests, are underwater, we got all kinds of vacant which also built the mixed-use Roosevelt and abandoned homes.” Collection development in the South Loop “I agree with you,” said McCaffery. and numerous other projects across the “You know what I do? You can come and country, expects that at 600 acres, Lake- see me. Don’t be afraid, I’m on the 18th side will take up to forty-five years to com- floor...” plete, and in the process will create 97,800 “You gotta come and see the whole construction jobs, 13,900 retail jobs, and community,” said another woman. 27,800 commercial and institutional jobs. “Somewhere down the line,” said anThe Lakeside website claims that con- other man to McCaffery, “you guys decidstruction has already begun on “Phase 1” of ed, ‘Hey, real estate is a big sell, so that’s the development, an 800,000 square foot what we’re gonna do.’ Why don’t you re“Market Common” turn to manufacwith retail and resituring? We need “We have to think about jobs.” dential uses to be built on the vacant land be“Write down this: if social anchors tween 79th and 82nd your suggestions,” aren’t emerging Streets, west of the said McCaffery. directly from the new Lakeshore Drive. “They’ve been Dan McCaffery written down becommunity, should we of the eponymous fore,” protested the then do nothing?” McCaffery Interests, man. however, found himAfter a while, self on a rougher patch McCaffery broke of road. During Mayor Emanuel’s speech away from the crowd. at the podium, people in the crowd started “I gotta go mix and mingle,” he said, to shout in protest, drawing the grim atten- stepping away. tion of the press and security in the crowd. The crowd dispersed, but some of its Immediately after the ribbon was cut, a more vocal members stuck around. dozen angry local residents—the same “What the city should do is return to residents whom Alderman Pope thanked initial proposals where they said that over during his speech for their “patience” and sixty-five percent of the land would be “understanding”—surrounded McCaffery, used for manufacturing purposes,” said a who had been on the stage with the oth- man named Robert. “What they could do er dignitaries. They shouted at him, con- is reallocate TIF [Tax increment financdemning his plans to build the high-in- ing] funds that have been allocated for come retail Lakeside Development in the Phase 1 of Lakeside construction back to middle of their neighborhood. our neighborhood schools, and back to our “‘Where’s the justification?” demand- neighborhood.” ed one woman. “This is what happens, you “We need manufacturing jobs, we guys wanna displace us.” need eighty-five percent of these new “I’m Dan,” said McCaffery. “What’s jobs to be for the 7th Ward,” said Dorian your name?” Myrickes, who is campaigning for 7th “We were the ones shouting during Ward alderman. “We do need retail, we your speech.” do need restaurants, but we need manufac“No problem.” turing, technology jobs that are gonna be “But it is a problem.” liable for the future.” “No, I mean, no problem that you did Alderman Pope, whose ward sits that, you have every right to do it.” south of 83rd Street, was positive about the
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effects the new road will have on the future of the community. “Rerouting Lakeshore Drive onto this site allows for relief of the old route, which has many curves and signals and isn’t conducive to efficient traffic,” said Pope. “It’ll offer a safer lifestyle for the residents here, and this is a primarily residential neighborhood.” However, most South Chicagoans seem to be more concerned with the longterm consequences—namely, the construction of a Loop-scale retail district in their backyards—of the Lakeshore Drive expansion, rather than its short-term conveniences. “You gotta remember those meetings where they told us they were gonna bring all these jobs here,” said Robert. “And now, they turn around, it’s all retail. They wanna make this whole area like Navy Pier, all along the lake.” The wide lanes and clean sidewalks on the pristine new Lakeshore Drive strike a remarkable contrast against the decaying stone walls and overgrown fields, which are all that remain of the South Works steel plant. “Thirty years, they’re gonna have everything down here,” mused a McCaffery security guard stationed at 87th Street. “New school, new shops, new everything. I’ll be long gone, that’s for sure, but it’s gonna be the place to be.” And at 87th and Burley, just off the new road, lies both old and new: on one side of the street is a small, run-down Mexican Auto Parts shop. On the other side of the street is the Chicago Velodrome, a new circular track built for high-speed bicycle races. The Velodrome, whose entrance into the neighborhood is a saga in its own right, is cordoned off from the street by fences decorated with McCaffery posters advertising a futuristic Lakeside community in which residents might watch exciting bike races at the Velodrome. Other posters salivate over massive parking spaces, hyper-efficient and eco-friendly infrastructure, glistening townhouse complexes, massive marinas, and a seemingly endless host of
other amenities. A few weeks after the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Lakeside project manager Nasutsa Mabwa explained the potential of the development and McCaffery’s vision for the future of the community. “Before we were here, there was a steel mill, there were thirty thousand people working here, there was heart,” said Mabwa. “Now that’s been destroyed, and it has to be reborn. It’s kind of like a Daniel Burnham project for the next several hundred years. It has civic implications. It will have a legacy.” Mabwa listed the numerous things Lakeside will bring to the community, the new stretches of lakefront and parkland, the new retail and commercial outlets, the brand-new school, and thousands of new residential units. She discussed the potential for a new light rail line through the site, and possible connections with the University of Chicago, among them new student housing and a satellite campus. In Mabwa’s telling, however, Lakeside’s purpose is to offer a sense of community and belonging
to an area that has long been deprived of such necessities. “There is no sense of place on the South Side,” said Mabwa. “If you’re in Lincoln Park, you know where to go to get a sense of place, to feel accessible. If you’re in Lakeview, you know where to go. Any neighborhood in the city, you know where it is. Where is that here? This can be the South Side’s place where you can have open space, to belong.” The expansion of Lakeshore Drive, according to Mabwa, was a crucial first step in opening up the steel mill site to future development. “Our fearless leader Dan McCaffery, when he heard about the city’s plan to extend the road, he saw the opportunity,” said Mabwa. “Pulling the new [Lakeshore Drive] through the site, creating bike lines, sidewalk, intersections, community space, that’s what you have to do. You can’t just make a highway with on and off ramps.” The new road, Mabwa said, will serve as a catalyst and anchor for Phase 1 of Lakeside, but added that the nature of the
phase is currently uncertain. “We do have a TIF for Phase 1,” said Mabwa. “We do want to put in mixed development and retail. We do want to put in rental housing. We will. But things are going to go where they need to be at that time, and we’ll respond to the private sector.” A timeline on the wall of the Lakeside Development office claims that Phase 1 will reach completion between 2015 and 2017, but when asked about the timeline, Mabwa quickly said, “That timeline is not for you. When retailers come to Lakeside, they want to understand how the phasing works. Real estate changes all the time. It responds to the marketplace, so it’s constantly in flux.” This timeline is still available for viewing on the Lakeside website.
n an off-road drive in a McCaffery SUV through the ruins of the old steel plant, the sheer scale of the Lakeside project becomes apparent. The site is enormous, more than double the size of the Loop. Even on a clear day the empty
land reaches as far as the horizon. The vast majority of the land is still completely barren except for a lonesome crane and some piles of mud. From the shoreline on the north end, at 79th Street, one can see the downtown Chicago skyline; this vantage point is a proposed location for the Barack Obama presidential library. On the southern end of the site, near the old ore wall that Mabwa says will be converted into a monument to US Steel workers in the old mill, local citizens were fishing on land that has been closed for five years. Some cast out their lines from the newly opened Park 523 at the end of 87th Street, which Alderman Pope hopes will be renamed Steel Workers Park. Others fished right off the concrete dock just beneath the ore wall. Mabwa looked out the SUV window at them and expressed her excitement at the fact that people had already started using the reopened space for recreation. On a Friday afternoon almost a month after the SUV ride through the site, after snow had started to fall, there were still
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courtesy of mccaffery interests
people fishing from the makeshift pier created by the ore wall. A hired security guard, however, arrived to kick them off about halfway through the afternoon. The juxtaposition between the utopian images on McCaffery’s publicity posters and the massive spread of brush through which Lakeshore Drive now runs is profound. One can imagine department stores and apartments towering where there is now nothing but grass and abandoned metal, and one wonders what will happen to the Mexican Auto Parts shop and to South Shore Food & Liquor, or, for that matter, to the South Chicago residents who will soon live in the shadow of “the biggest planned development in the country.” Many residents don’t believe that Lakeside could be built in South Chicago without any negative effects on the community. “I can’t see this coexisting with the community they’re planning to build over the next thirty years,” said Kingsley Clark, another longtime resident of the South Side. “I can’t imagine that yuppies
will want to buy condos right next to this neighborhood as it looks now, and I don’t see who in this community could be helped by Lakeside.” UofC sociology professor Kathleen Cagney, who specializes in social inequality and health in urban neighborhoods, explained that there is no historical example of a development of Lakeside’s nature. “There’s no ‘usually,’ ” said Cagney. “It’s a very different kind of circumstance. I’ve not seen an example like this in the United States.” Cagney went on to add that Lakeside is not only much bigger than most urban redevelopment efforts, it is also a redevelopment of an empty industrial space, rather than an existing residential area. “Typically what you would see is it would be a three or five block radius where some buildings would be razed and then there would be some sort of exodus or replacement of population, but that’s not the nature of the beast here,” said Cagney. “One could make the argument that there might be spillover that could lead to gen-
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trification or replacement of population at the circumference of the site, but that land isn’t owned by McCaffery.” Cagney concluded by saying she was unsure what the fate of the South Chicago community would be. She said she thought a community as diverse as Lakeside could provide “social anchors” for residents of the South Side. “But,” said Cagney, “we also have to think about this: if [these social anchors] aren’t emerging directly from the community, should we then do nothing?” Where some residents of South Chicago see a foreign force encroaching on their community, Mabwa and McCaffery seem to see potential for economic and civic improvement. “Public transportation, jobs, community center, recreation, concerts, parks,” said Mabwa. “Why wouldn’t you want Lakeside? There’s nothing negative about it at all. The only thing that’s hard for some folks is it’ll be long, and it’s change.” Both parties, however, agree that the effects of the Lakeside Development on the
community will become apparent sooner rather than later. Although McCaffery already held the ceremony on 79th Street to celebrate the completion of the new Lakeshore Drive, it is clear to everyone involved that the real story is just starting to break ground. At the Lakeshore Drive unveiling ceremony, Senator Dick Durbin approached the podium, decked with images of a South Chicago trademarked by Lakeside. Senator Durbin left the crowd with a few words of his own: “Here we are today, at this important day in history. Not just opening a new passageway for the people who live in this neighborhood, but also showing that when we work together and invest our tax dollars wisely, we can create jobs and economic opportunity.” The pictures may have been pretty, and the current situation may be desolate, but the crowd still grumbled at the future that might be in store for South Chicago. ¬
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How to Make Art Work The Halsted of John Podmajersky III and the Chicago Arts District BY HANNAH NYHART
hicago Arts District” is an ambiguous designation, as much a brand as a region. The label was crafted in 2002 by John Podmajersky III to promote his family’s properties and the artists who lived and had gallery space within them. Podmajersky Inc. owns at least one hundred lots in East Pilsen; many of them form blocks of contiguous artist lofts and studio spaces along Halsted, concentrated between 16th Street and Cermak Road. There the company also hosts monthly 2nd Fridays Gallery Nights and an annual Pilsen East Artists’ Open House that pre-dates the district but is now run by Podmajersky staff. The Podmajerskys have a history in Pilsen that stretches three generations, one marked by an active cultivation of East Pilsen that stretches beyond the typical bounds of property management. It’s a story they promote on their own website and on that of the Arts District, and which has been recounted in multiple local news pieces over the years. Beginning in the 1950s, John Podmajersky, Jr., the son of dairy farmers, bought up a slew of Pilsen properties with his wife. A period of blight and flight meant dilapidated structures ripe for purchase, and the Podmajerskys rehabilitated the holdings and encouraged artists to move into their spaces. They raised their son in the neighborhood and he stayed in the city, attending the University of Chicago and taking up the family business. Around the time of the Arts District’s founding, as Podmajersky III assumed leadership of Podmajersky Inc., the narrative begins to change. The Arts District emphasizes artistic entrepreneurship, a commitment its company literature presents as a natural extension of its goals in the neighborhood. Others have charged
that its new emphasis on the profitable artist has brought rent hikes and promotional policies like open studio hours, which have made it harder for working artists to stay in their spaces. In 2004, artists affiliated with Bridgeport’s Lumpen collective put out flyers online and on the streets of Pilsen trumpeting the “Principality of Podmajersky,” a feudal parody of the family’s history in the area that dubbed the period of current management the “Age of Blunder.” The annual Open House and monthly 2nd Fridays, both events designed to promote the work of Podmajersky tenants, have vacillated in degrees of inclusivity over the past decade, creating additional divides in a neighborhood that is already often split between gentrified East Pilsen and the rest of the largely Latino community. Today, the Podmajersky and Chicago Arts District brands run strong along Halsted. Many of the changes are a surface polishing: exhibitions in street-level windows, stylized signage imagining future uses for empty spaces, ubiquitous, easily recognizable orange and blue address markers. The consistency lends the space both glamor and a sense of artificiality; whatever develops here is by design. As for artistic entrepreneurship, a chocolatier and a florist, both of which Podmajerksy holds up as model Arts District tenants, have recently been joined on Halsted by a vintage boutique. In talking with Podmajersky, one gets the sense that there isn’t much room for the starving artist in his onward and upward vision of East Pilsen. But then, Podmajersky would likely argue that artists shouldn’t starve.
Can you tell me about how the Chicago Arts District came to be and the relationship between Podmajersky Inc. and the Arts District?
of our properties. So it’s geographic, and the Chicago Arts District is really offered to people who are customers of ours. The Chicago Arts District is focused primarily around us attracting people who are interested in art and culture to come to that specific spot.
The Chicago Arts District came to be because we felt that the artists and entrepreneurs that were our customers needed a platform to help promote their work, and since we have always been very supportive and we’re working in a very concentrated community, we thought that was something we should provide some assistance in. I think our basic feeling was if you’re
gonna be an artist or an entrepreneur or an entrepreneurial artist, that’s a profession, and the more successful you can be, the better for everybody. So that was the basis for the Chicago Arts District. So are the bounds of the Arts District geographically specific, or does it just depend on which properties are managed by Podmajersky? It’s hard to answer that question because we’re obviously focused on the east end of Pilsen, where we have the concentration
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The Chicago Arts District’s site talks about community stewardship—what does that mean for you? It means a lot of different things, but I grew up in the neighborhood, and I’ve lived
there my entire life and I’ve worked there my entire life, and I have a lot of passion and identity with the neighborhood. That’s where my history is, and that’s where my future is and where my present is. We have a lot of respect for the historic urban environment. We’re not restorationists, so to speak, but we feel that there is a very important fabric of the old city and the old buildings, and we’re interested in making sure that that doesn’t disappear, because we think that neighborhoods that have that kind of patina and that kind of
history are also more attractive and more interesting places to be. The description of the Chicago Arts District talks about assuming responsibilities that are typically those of local government. I’m curious about what that means. We do a lot of things that you might not do if you just owned one building on a street. Our staff is out on the street at seven o’clock in the morning six days a week, and they are taking graffiti off of buildings when it occurs right away, they’re picking up paper and cleaning the streets. We’re advocating for other things there. For example, there was a project say fifteen years ago, a state-funded project to streetscape Halsted. And we had lobbied for that, to get new sidewalks and new lights and
make the sidewalks wider. We helped bring the neighborhood together so that the result was a little bit better. That’s something that a neighborhood group might typically do; it’s not something that a property owner typically does. And then of course, we sponsor all of these events that you’re probably familiar with: the Artists’ Open Houses, and the 2nd Fridays, and other events. I’ve been going to 2nd Fridays for the past few years, and I was wondering whether there’s been a shift in the makeup of the District. Has there been a shift toward more businesses? I think that’s always been an interest of ours, to attract a certain amount of artisanal entrepreneurs. There’s the chocolatier, Chocolat Uzma Sharif. She’s a really great
example of a nice blend between business and art that is a really good fit for us. She’s very passionate about chocolate and subtle flavorings, and how it’s crafted. There’s a floral shop that you’ve probably noticed, Blumgarten. They do such outstanding floral arrangements, better than I’ve ever seen anywhere, and they’re really artists who have figured out a way to make a real business there for themselves. So I wouldn’t call it a shift, I’d call it an addition. We want to see more of those kinds of things in the area. In thinking about having an enduring arts district, some people would say that artists typically follow low rents, and so it’s hard to create a space that endures as a hotbed of artistic activity. What do you think about that?
First of all, I think that you’ve enunciated stereotypes about artists that aren’t necessarily true or useful. We’re always offering very affordable space, but part of the idea behind the Chicago Arts District is to help the artists and entrepreneurs there have more success so that those kinds of costs are in line and more manageable, because they’re doing better. What, for you, does the area look like in five years? I think it looks a lot like it does now, with retailers and self-representing artists, and a few more artisanal entrepreneurs who bring services to the artists in the neighborhood that help them have a nicer experience there too. Another coffee shop would be nice. ¬
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“RESIDENTIAL LANDLORD AND TENANT ORDINANCE SUMMARY” The stated purpose of the ordinance: “to protect and promote the public health, safety and welfare of [Chicago’s] citizens, to establish the rights and obligations of the landlord and the tenant in the rental of dwelling units, and to encourage the landlord and the tenant to maintain and improve the quality of housing.”
“To maintain the property in compliance with all applicable provisions of the Municipal Code.” These include keeping the building reasonably free of rodents and insects, maintaining trash facilities, keeping the roof water-tight, maintaining the condition of walls, ceilings, and floors, supplying smoke detectors and proper locks, maintaining the condition of shared areas (including basements, stairways, porches, and hallways), and essential services (heat, electricity, plumbing, and others).
“every written rental agreement” Rental agreements that contradict parts of the ordinance are illegal. There have been several cases of landlords writing clauses in direct contradiction to the RLTO, by, for example, prohibiting tenants from making repairs or deducting rent. When these landlords challenge their tenants in court, the cases are often scrapped because the clauses in question were illegal to begin with. “effective as of November 6, 1986” Just two months prior on September 8, a cohort of landlords argued that more than a dozen provisions in the ordinance violated their property and compensation rights under the Federal Constitution. The district court ruled that the RLTO was a constitutional but potentially unwise policy and the U.S. Court of Appeals later upheld the decision. Here’s where it gets interesting: Judge Posner wrote a controversial second majority opinion challenging the political and economic undertones of the ordinance, claiming it would cause building owners to convert rental units to condominiums and thus favor homeowners, renters of luxury apartments, and high-income tenants to the detriment of poor tenants. “SECURITY DEPOSITS AND PREPAID RENT” Careful. The RLTO doesn’t clearly define “prepaid rent” or “security deposits.” It refers to “prepaid rent” in some clauses and “security deposit” in others, which gives landlords wiggle room to, among other things, not provide a receipt for a “prepaid rent” that serves the same purpose as a security deposit. Don’t hesitate to ask landlords to clarify their use of these terms or to hold them accountable to the regulations in the ordinance when appropriate. This remains one of the RLTO’s most contested issues. 10 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY
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“TENANT REMEDIES” You don’t have to do all the work yourself! Rarely do tenants face problems in isolation—if one tenant has a bedbug problem or loses heating, others in the building likely have as well. Taking collective action makes the process more manageable for all tenants and is often more effective. One way to go about this is by holding a tenant meeting and making flyers to hang in shared areas of the building or slip under people’s doors to spread the word. The quicker others get involved, the better. There have been plenty of cases in which landlords failed to respond to one tenant but responded when five gave notice to withhold rent.
“the tenant may withhold an amount of rent” This is one of the most powerful rights, ensuring a fair playing field between landlords and tenants, but it must be used carefully. To withhold rent, write your landlord with details on all repairs necessary in the apartment and common areas. Take pictures, have witnesses inspect the problems if possible, and avoid exaggeration in case the issue is taken into court. Include a statement with the amount of rent you intend to withhold. Err on the side of caution to prevent your landlord from making an eviction case for nonpayment of rent. You can either send this letter by certified or registered mail, return receipt requested, or hand-deliver it with a witness. Set aside the amount of money withheld for back rent payment in the event your landlord files an eviction suit. This amount can also be used to negotiate repairs. There have been plenty of cases in which landlords failed to respond to one tenant but responded when five gave notice to withhold rent.
An annotated ordinance BY CINDY JI
“(eff. 1-1-92)” Landlords face penalties for oversized late fees, and, after a 1996 amendment, for oversized “discounts” as well. In Friedman v. Krupp Corp. that year, a landlord had offered a large discount for rent paid on time—a not-so-cleverly-disguised oversized late fee—and owed the tenant two months’ rent damages after the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that honoring the landlord’s discount would be “a victory of semantics over substance.” This seemingly straightforward case remains notable because of its potential bearing on the ongoing discrepancies between “prepaid rent” and “security deposit.” “PROHIBITION ON RETALIATORY CONDUCT BY LANDLORD” In other words: don’t let the fear of retaliation prevent you from exercising your rights. ! Keep in mind that landlords must win a lawsuit to interfere with your lease—only the Sherriff’s Department can evict a tenant on court order, never the landlord. They might try to claim a supposed legitimate reason—that, for example, the tenant violated some other part of the rental agreement—but this tactic won’t stand if the violation cannot be proven.
“WHERE CAN I GET A COPY OF THE ORDINANCE?” “FAILURE TO PROVIDE ESSENTIAL SERVICES” If conditions immediately threaten your health or safety and your landlord fails to provide help, report the situation to the City of Chicago’s complaint line at (312)744-5000. They respond fairly quickly!
Make sure to read relevant sections of the full ordinance carefully before taking action. There are a number of tenant and legal assistance organizations across Chicago that can help, including Metropolitan Tenants’ Organization ( (773)292-4988), Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, Illinois Tenant Union, Legal Assistance Foundation, and the City’s own Rents’ Right Program ( (773)742-RENT). Any of these organizations might refer you to others, depending on the problem.
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Equal Property An interview with writer and historian Beryl Satter BY SHARON LURYE
eryl Satter combined a gripping personal story and a meticulously-researched history of systematic racism in her 2010 book “Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America.” The narrative thread that ties her book together is the story of her father Mark Satter, a crusading Chicago lawyer. Like a real-life Atticus Finch, he struggled to achieve justice for clients who had the entire system stacked against them. The Federal Housing Administration, convinced that interracial neighborhoods led to “the decline of both the human race and of property values,” generally refused to insure mortgages on blocks with both black and white residents. Greedy speculators then forced black homebuyers to sign contract loans at grossly inflated prices. The victims of this contract-selling scheme could be evicted after one missed payment. Satter’s father, a white man, spent eight years defending black clients in court and trying to prick the public’s conscience with speeches, letters, and editorials. But in the midst of his struggle for social justice, he struggled to keep his own family financially afloat. In a cruel twist, he was accused of being a slumlord because he couldn’t seem to maintain the buildings that he owned in Lawndale. He died in 1965 of heart disease, leaving behind a widow and five children, the youngest of whom was six-year-old Beryl. His story occupies the first half of “Family Properties,” while the second half remembers reformers like Martin Luther King Jr., the community activists from the West and South Sides who formed the Contract Buyers League to fight against contract selling, and the federal court cases that finally led to change.A professor at Rutgers University in Newark, Satter has won high accolades for her work, including the National Jewish Book Award and the Liberty Legacy Award from the Organization of American Historians.
Your father’s story has many sad elements in it. His years of struggle on behalf of his clients did not end in victory. When he died, he left behind a widow who had cancer, and significant financial troubles for his family. Would you consider his story a tragedy? I think that anyone who cares about social justice understands that the horizon that you’re aiming for in terms of victory or defeat has to be much broader. It can’t be right now, tomorrow, next week. It can be in twenty years, in forty years, in sixty years. It can be any time. You just have to do the best you can as a moral human being and hope that the effort you put forth eventually bears fruit. He could have lived another forty years, even another fifty years, in which case he would have seen 12 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY
some fruits of his activism. He died before he saw any results, but that doesn’t mean the results didn’t happen. So when I look at the activism that came after his death and the laws that ultimately passed that helped relocate money back to cities across the nation, I ultimately don’t see this as a tragedy. I’m not saying that he died with an easy conscience, clear that everything would be better. But I don’t think his work or his life story is ultimately a tragedy. Was writing the book a cathartic experience? It was a wonderful experience for me, because my father was a really interesting person. He was a brilliant man; he was a brilliant activist; he was as courageous as a human being can be. To encounter some-
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body like that in any way would be exciting, but to encounter such an individual who happens to be my father was thrilling and deeply absorbing. I want to say that it was also quite exciting to encounter Monsignor John J. Egan. I knew nothing about this man and learned everything by reading about him and was just completely enthralled and engaged. The same with some of the other people that I wrote about, like Clyde Ross and Ruth Wells; they were very exciting people to read about and to research. Of course it’s a little more gripping because it’s my father…but the whole story was enthralling to me, not just his story. Did your father influence your decision to be a historian? That decision isn’t inherited from him. I think I mention in the book that [I grew] up with a lot of mysteries in [my] immediate past. The idea that the past could explain the present was not something directly inherited from him, but the result of his death—the result of the fact that many things happened when I was too young to understand them, yet I lived with the repercussions of those events on a daily basis. Anybody who grew up in the aftermath of something rough [that] they don’t understand might think, “Maybe I should think about the past. Maybe that would explain things.” Some people in your family were bitter about the fact that he didn’t do enough to support his family. How did they react to the publication of the book? The people who felt that way were mostly my mother’s relatives because they didn’t know him as well; they were the ones who gathered around her after he died. They’re proud of me, but they don’t talk about it. Their children, my first cousins, are happy about the book and for them it’s a way to know again an uncle and an aunt that they vaguely remember from their childhood—people they knew but didn’t know.
It’s given them an insight into the pain and struggles of their parents’ generation that they didn’t have before. You dedicate the book to your brother Paul. What was his role? He was absolutely invaluable. The book would not exist if he had not made the decision as a young teenager that the material in my father’s office had to be saved. There was so much stress and chaos at the time of my father’s death, because my mother was also fighting for her life, that I don’t think anyone else thought, “Who’s going to go to my father’s office and gather the papers there?” Paul thought of it because of his love and devotion to his father, and he saved that material. He also spoke to me about my father the whole time that I was growing up so that the memory stayed alive to some extent. I think he stoked my curiosity about my father because my other siblings didn’t speak about him very much, and it would have been possible for me to forget that there was a story there. But basically the book is based on the material my brother Paul saved when he was sixteen years old. In your book you note similarities between the credit exploitation of the sixties and the subprime mortgage crisis of today. Can you explain the parallels between these events? The similarities are very, very striking. In both cases they are examples of an economic crisis being caused by manipulation of credit. In the sixties, I feel like the treatment that black Chicagoans received when they were subject to predatory contract loans, which were at high interest rates and inflated prices and on very harsh terms— they were sort of the canary in the mine. In the sixties people learned this was a great way to make money easy, if you didn’t care about the consequences to the communities.
MORTGAGES steered into subprime loans than whites of identical economic status, and Latinos were also disproportionally steered into such loans. It went bigger than that, but in a way it’s more heartbreaking because the moderate-income minority communities that were targeted for subprime loans were communities where people had overcome immense obstacles to become property owners, and then they were blanketed with solicitations to take out mortgages. They were very systematically targeted to take out loans that were going to be damaging to them, with the end result that they would lose their homes. Non-minorities suffered as well because the subprime mortgage crisis brought down global economies. But nevertheless, the largest loss of wealth is going to be among minority homeowners, and it’s quite heartbreaking because this seems to happen once a generation; and when it happens, blacks particularly get back where they started over and over, and are blamed for being behind economically. It’s particularly painful to work twice as hard, lose everything, and then be blamed for it. And I think that is an experience that many black families have had over and over and over. What lessons can reformers learn from this book?
In the seventies the FHA HUD scandal was the first national scandal about predatory credit behavior. That scandal is even closer to what’s going on now, because that’s an example of a set-up that enabled people to push high-interest loans to make money off the fees to the loans. [There were] absolutely no consequences to your behavior because the loans were, in the seventies’ case, guaranteed by bad federal policies; and in the current case, there were no consequences because the loans were immediately sold to Wall Street. There were powerful incentives to make predatory, high-interest, badly-structured loans that were profitable to the lender and disastrous to the borrower. More or less they’re all variations on a theme and I don’t think we’ll have relief
from this sort of predatory credit behavior until laws are passed that guarantee fair access to credit for people regardless of their color—credit access that’s based on individual credibility, not on an assumed group characteristic. As long as we have built in structural differentials between different groups’ access to credit, there’s an opening for credit exploitation. Of course I mean structural racism—problems with African Americans getting loans, no matter what their credit history, problems with Latinos getting loans no matter what their credit history. Do you believe that minority groups were more hard-hit by the subprime crisis? Yeah. There’s lot of studies that have been done to show that African-Americans were something like over twice as likely to be
The lesson that I learned from the people I wrote about is that poor people, the ones who are most directly affected by an economic practice, are the best situated to come up with a solution. The big issue is to learn how to listen to them and learn how to provide them with the means to analyze their own situation. That was the message of Monsignor Egan. To some extent it’s [community organizer Saul] Alinsky’s message. I actually favor Monsignor Egan over Alinsky as a model of how to do community activism because I think Egan had more of a fundamental moral vision of right and wrong, whereas Alinsky was more pragmatic and practical in his approach to problems and sometimes that tripped him up. I think that if a solution is dreamed up by a well-funded think tank, but not tested on the ground and discussed on the ground, and the perspective of the people most affected by it is not taken into account, it’s not going to work. It’s going to be a top-down solution and it’s going to, in all likelihood, re-victimize the people it’s trying to help.
Who was Egan? John J. Egan was an activist priest. He combined a number of elements in his outreach to not just Catholics but to all Chicagoans. He actually studied with Carl Rogers, the humanist psychologist, and had a deep empathy for others, and a way of withholding judgment until he learned what people had to say and what they needed. He combined that sense of empathy and respect for others with a very specific kind of community organizing training that he received from Saul Alinsky, who’s a pioneering community organizer. From Saul Alinsky he learned methods of going door to door in a community to learn everything there was to know in that community, to read everything you could read, to talk to everyone you could talk to, and to try and get a sense of the dynamics within a particular location so that problems could be addressed— problems that people in a given community articulated. Your father himself was a landowner in Lawndale who refused to sell off the property he had there. Why didn’t your father sell those buildings? He wrote many letters from his deathbed saying, “Whatever happens, do not sell these buildings.” I think he wanted to show that he could turn them around; they were almost paid off. He had devoted years to these buildings and he wanted to hope for the best, but the truth was after his death my mother couldn’t keep those buildings. They had become an economic drain, not an economic benefit, and it was impossible for a widowed mother of five to maintain four buildings in a neighborhood where she couldn’t withstand the tide of exploitation…that had dragged down even the most reputable landlord and homeowners. The reason the story of my father’s properties is so important is because there’s a liberal mantra that goes still to this day that if only some well-meaning white people had stayed in these neighborhoods, everything would have been fine. I think my father’s experience shows that this is simply not true. Once a neighborhood reaches a tipping point, once it’s been redlined and targeted as an area where no loans can be made no matter what, a few well-meaning people staying put won’t do anything. All it means is that they go down with everyone else, and it’s not really the answer. ¬
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Lost in the Shuffle The future of traditional public housing under the CHA’s Plan for Transformation BY SPENCER MCAVOY
ust south of Lake Calumet, about halfway between the Loop and the smokestacks of Gary, Indiana, sits Altgeld Gardens. A low-rise public housing development with just over 3,000 residents, the neighborhood looks more like a suburban residential community than like the massive high-rises that dominate the narrative of Chicago public housing. Driving south on I-94, you’re more likely to notice the landfill on your left than the neat little rectangles of two-story row houses on the other side of the highway. 14 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY
Altgeld—one of the first public housing projects in the country—was built in 1945 to house the African-American workforce of surrounding factories, particularly the Acme Steel plant and the Pullman factory. Since the majority of these businesses left in the eighties, the community has been struggling both with unemployment and with the air and water pollution the factories left behind. Within the city limits, Altgeld could scarcely be farther from the Lathrop Homes, a development on the North Side
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that lines a short section of the Chicago River between Lincoln Park and Logan Square. The two developments are linked by the fact that they are some of the only traditional family public housing projects left in Chicago. Both have also recently been the unwilling targets of large-scale demolition proposals made by the Chicago Housing Authority. But while the CHA has since backed off from demolition plans at Altgeld, where the location and environmental issues make it unsuited to market-rate development, it remains com-
mitted to remaking the Lathrop Homes according to its Plan for Transformation. Announced in 2000, the Plan represents Chicago’s effort to reinvent and rebrand public housing in response to the mismanagement, neglect, and violence that its high-rise projects had come to represent. It has accomplished this mostly by knocking down the old high-rises and replacing them with mixed-income developments and retail, meant to integrate more easily into the surrounding communities and avoid the concentrations of poverty blamed
PUBLIC HOUSING for so many of the old-style projects’ dysfunctions. As D. Bradford Hunt, professor of social science and history at Roosevelt University, writes in his book “Blueprint for Disaster: The Unraveling of Chicago Public Housing,” “The Plan for Transformation, at heart and paradoxically, is about keeping public housing alive by making it nearly invisible.”
didn’t know I was living in a project until CHA told me I was living in a project,” says Cheryl Johnson, head of People for Community Recovery (PCR), a tenants’ rights and environmental advocacy group based in Altgeld, where she grew up. “My mother moved out here in the sixties,” she says. “When she moved out here it was a viable community. I saw people who lived in the community working in the community. Businesses were owned by residents.” Residents like Johnson, who entered public housing before the CHA’s toxic, very public crises at projects like Cabrini-Green and the Robert Taylor Homes damaged the reputation of public housing nationwide, have been surprised to see the very words for the place they live acquire negative connotations. In fact, the early days of public housing complexes like Altgeld are often described ecstatically by residents. “We never looked at Altgeld Gardens as public housing,” Maude Davis, an early Altgeld resident, told J.S. Fuerst, author of “When Public Housing Was Paradise.” “We felt it was just paradise. We felt that this was just the greatest housing we could live in! There was pride in it.” Johnson was also surprised when the CHA earmarked $7.3 million of its proposed 2013 budget for “planning for demolition” of 648 units at Altgeld. “They wanted to just knock down the vacant units with no future plans,” she says, in a tone of disbelief. The demolition would have cut the number of units at the project by around a third. Johnson says that over 200 Altgeld residents showed up at the public comment meeting on the budget after the “planning for demolition” came to light. Activist organizations throughout the city, including the Chicago Housing Initiative, Preservation Chicago, and Architecture for Humanity, banded together to form the Save Altgeld Coalition. When PCR discovered that Altgeld had, in 1993, been found eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the organization contacted the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which began a review of the CHA’s development plans.
As an eligible location for Historic Place status, any major changes to Altgeld must be reviewed by HUD. At this point, CHA and HUD have, Johnson says, agreed to preserve more than ninety percent of Altgeld’s 2,000 housing units, and to develop a plan to get 350 of the 635 currently offline units rehabbed and available to rent in 2014. (The agreement is yet to be incorporated into the CHA’s annual Moving to Work plan, which outlines CHA projects for the upcoming year. A CHA spokesperson declined to offer more information.) The units to be demolished— less than 150—are largely in buildings that have significant water damage, according to Johnson. This is no doubt a victory for PCR, and for the residents of Altgeld, but the long-term future of the development is still uncertain. Johnson still loves living there, she says, but admits that since most of the surrounding industrial companies left in the eighties, it’s not the same “vibrant, viable community” she grew up in. Organizations such as BPI, a group of Chicago public interest attorneys, and the Urban Institute, a D.C. think tank, have questioned whether rehabilitating it, and thus housing more people there, is advisable due to the “isolated” and “segregated” nature of the development. More than ninety-seven percent of Altgeld residents are black; the same is true of the surrounding Riverdale community area, which has a median income of around $13,000. Though it seems to be what residents want, no mixed-income housing at Altgeld also means that it is unlikely to get the kind of funding for new amenities or to attract the level of attention from businesses that new developments elsewhere have. In general, the CHA’s new plan, characterized by a near-dogmatic commitment to mixed-income—which can at times make it seem as though living among market-rate residents is a virtual panacea for social ills—has little to say about the future of traditional public housing spaces like Altgeld. “The biggest problem that we see,” Johnson told me, “is the preservation of housing, the preservation of public housing, for low-income public housing communities, for low-income working class people, and the poor.”
support and, in some cases, surging distaste for the words “public housing.” He describes how at an opening ceremony for a mixed-income development in Memphis, that city’s housing director said, “We’re almost there. We have only a few more sites to go before we can eliminate the words ‘public housing’ from our vocabulary. Wouldn’t that be great?” Atlanta has already made the purge, and Las Vegas isn’t far behind. As of 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, HUD has approved the demolition of over 285,000 units nationwide. This is in addition to the more than 250,000 units that have already been knocked down since the early nineties, meaning that in the last two decades HUD has approved the demolition of close to one-fifth of the nation’s public housing stock. Research shows that the demolition of public housing does, when accompanied by redevelopment, usually generate significant benefits for the surrounding neighborhood. Typically this includes a reduction in crime, increase in property values, and increased private investment. What
demolition doesn’t do, however, is improve the employment opportunities, educational attainment, or health of displaced public housing residents. These residents generally wind up moving into the private housing market by means of a Housing Choice Voucher, which is how the majority of CHA tenants are now housed, or placed in another public housing probject. And, Goetz writes in “New Deal Ruins,” once they are moved out of these communities to make way for redevelopment, residents’ chances of moving back to the newly revitalized area they left are usually less than one in three. When CHA first announced the Plan for Transformation, it included a full rehabilitation of Altgeld and the Lathrop Homes. Unlike at Altgeld, however, the CHA is now aggressively pursuing an agenda of mixed-income redevelopment at Lathrop. All of Lathrop’s 925 units—only 152 of which are currently occupied—were originally counted in the number which would undergo rehabilitation, and thus remain as public housing after the Plan for Transformation’s completion. But in sub-
t’s not an exaggeration to say that the very existence of traditional public housing like Altgeld is under threat. In his recent book, “New Deal Ruins,” professor of urban and regional planning Edward G. Goetz catalogues the waning national JANUARY 8, 2014 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 15
sequent years the housing authority slowly but surely scaled back its plans for rehabilitation at Lathrop, until in 2008 they announced that they were planning on tearing the entire project down. The latest redevelopment proposal, put forward by a team of developers assembled by the CHA, envisions around 1,100 units in a new Lathrop. Only 400 of these would be for public housing, while 500 would be market rate, and around 200 would be designated as “affordable housing,” which describes units for renters earning eighty to 120 percent of Chicago’s median income. The developers, collectively known as the Lathrop Community Partners (LCP), plan for the complex to be centered on an “iconic building.” The phrase is LCP’s euphemism for a high-rise with an unspecified number of floors. Miguel Suarez is the chairman of the Lathrop Leadership Team, a residents’ advocacy group formed in part to organize a response to the CHA’s increasingly aggressive plans for the project. He’s lived in the complex for over twenty years; the financial relief and the community support he received there enabled him to return to school and complete his college degree. Though generally soft-spoken, Suarez becomes frustrated when he discusses the features of the current plan. His opposition, and that of Titus Kerby, vice president of the Lathrop Local Advisory Council, is unequivocal. In separate meetings, both stressed more than once: “No demolition, no high-rise, no market-rate.” Lathrop is the only entirely traditional family public housing left on the North Side; the areas around it range from gentrifying to gentrified. The main concern of residents, community leaders, and activists is preserving public housing in an area in which many residents are being priced out, and in a city with over 40,000 families on the waiting list for public housing, with hundreds of thousands more surely waiting to apply. (The waiting list is usually closed—the last time it was opened, in 2010, more than 200,000 families applied. Only 40,000 were eventually added to the list.) The CHA also still has a long way to go toward fulfilling a central promise of the Plan for Transformation: delivering 25,000 replacement units by 2015. That goal has already been pushed back five years, from 2010. The CHA claims to have completed roughly 22,000 units, but in each of the last three years the housing authority has delivered less than 400. In its plan for 2014 it anticipated adding just 267 public housing units, only forty of which will come 16 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY
through mixed-income redevelopments. In have to be drug tested.’ ” Those who fail the light of the fact that rehabilitation is both tests are evicted, which seems, almost more cheaper and quicker than demolition and than anything else, to set Stubenfield off. redevelopment, the decision to demolish She doesn’t use drugs and has never failed so many units at Lathrop is even less ex- a test. Her voice blares out of the phone: plicable. Ward Miller, president of Pres- “You’re gonna kick me out? You’re not gonervation Chicago, also told me that two na help me? You’re not gonna send me to redifferent groups of surveyors, one hired by hab? This is the twenty-first century—they CHA, said that the buildings at Lathrop look so stupid.” are structurally sound and well-suited to Afterward, Kerby seems to feel he’s rehabilitation, despite the fact that some made his point about mixed-income. “It have been kept empty for years. just shouldn’t differentiate between marBased on the Plan for Transforma- ket-rate and public housing,” he says. tion’s stated aims of deconcentrating pov- “Don’t stigmatize me.” erty and fighting the trend of segregation “[When things go wrong] who gets in Chicago’s public housing projects it’s blamed?” Johnson asked. “It’s us as resunclear why they would want to reduce the public housing stock at Lathrop at all, espe“When they start knocking down cially since the development houses in Lincoln Park to make is exceptionally diverse, with room for mixed-income housing sizable populations of black, Latino, and white residents. I’ll believe everything they’re say“This is not a poor concentraing. But as long as they’re still tion of African Americans,” Kerby says. “It’s not like that building mixed-income on the here. We’ve got all the retail backs of poor people, I’ll still feel and market-rate housing we like shooting someone.” need around here.” The phrase “iconic building,” though, seems more than anything else to leave a bitter taste in idents. But we don’t control that purse Suarez’s mouth. Asked for his most signif- string, we didn’t make the decisions made icant complaint about the current plan, his by the CHA hierarchy about what was voice lowers almost to a growl. “No high- done in our communities.” In other words, rise, no ‘iconic building.’ ” Johnson, Kerby, Stubenfield, and public “Why, after just knocking down all housing residents all across Chicago are those high-rises,” Kerby asks, “would they still suffering from the fallout from CHA’s want to build a new one here? We never last set of “iconic” buildings. had any high-rises. They know that doesn’t nlike most of Chicago’s public work.” housing developments, which Given that he doesn’t want new retail, were built on top of demolished market-rate housing, or a high-rise, I ask Kerby what he does want from CHA. In slums, Altgeld Gardens was built on top of response he calls Annie Stubenfield, a res- what Cheryl Johnson calls “a raw sewage ident of Oakwood Shores, the mixed-in- landfill.” And though it never faced the come development that replaced the Ida same levels of crime, violence, and drug B. Wells, Clarence Darrow, and Madden trafficking present in high-rises like the Park Homes. Stubenfield is a plaintiff Robert Taylor Homes and Cabrini-Green, in a pending lawsuit over drug testing at residents have long struggled with endemic mixed-income developments. Drug testing disorders of a different sort. Cyanide-contaminated drinking waonly occurs at sites that house former public housing residents, as Oakwood Shores ter, PCB contamination, lead-based paint, does. Home and condo owners aren’t re- fifty documented landfills, and 250 leaking underground storage tanks were just a quired to take a drug test. As Stubenfield sees it, “they’re basi- portion of the environmental hazards faced cally saying that everybody from public by Altgeld when Cheryl Johnson and her housing is a drug addict.” One of her two mother Hazel—the founder of PCR—bedaughters just turned eighteen; she is now gan their environmental advocacy work subject to drug testing as well. “My daugh- in the eighties. Hazel, who passed away ter told me,” Stubenfield says, “ ‘I didn’t in 2011, was a nationally renowned envigraduate from high school, get a job, and ronmental activist, sometimes called the become a college student so that I would mother of the environmental justice move-
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ment. She worked with President Obama on his first community organizing effort to remove asbestos in the area, which was contributing to the Far Southeast Side’s having the highest incidence of cancer in Chicago. More than half of the Riverdale community area, where Altgeld is located, is still taken up by rail yards, landfills, industrial sites (many non-operational), and, of course, the massive Calumet Water Reclamation Plant. Just across 130th Street, at the community’s northern edge, the facility uses an antiquated treatment system involving the use of open-air sludge beds; a large portion of the plant is, essentially, a field of decomposing waste. It smells exactly like what it is—raw sewage—particularly in the northern part of the development. Along the southern edge of Altgeld, close to the city limit, flows a section of the polluted Calumet River. There are so many environmental hazards in Altgeld’s immediate vicinity that Hazel Johnson used to call the whole area “the toxic doughnut.” The amenities here are limited— there’s only one grocery store in the neighborhood, which Johnson and other residents described as understocked and overpriced, and the nearest full-sized supermarkets are three to four miles away. Hazel Johnson was instrumental in getting the CHA to open a small health clinic, which is still there, and Altgeld just recently got its own public library branch. “Isolated,” however—a term often used in reference to Altgeld—is a word Johnson doesn’t like. “Self-contained,” she corrects me. “It has its advantages and its disadvantages, being in an isolated area. We don’t have to worry about what, as we say, goes on in the city.” She pauses. “I mean, is that a fair question to ask, because I come from a low-income community? Wilmette is isolated too. But because we’re in an industrialized area, and because that’s changed so drastically, it’s affected the economic status of the community. Nobody would be saying anything about isolation if that industry was still going.” Johnson isn’t fond of the phrase “mixed-income” either, pointing out that it implies that communities such as Altgeld are homogenous. “Working class people live here,” she says, though clearly fewer than did in the past. Kerby told me the same thing. “Mixed-income is nothing new,” he said. “There are people paying close to a thousand dollars to live here in public housing.” In fact, their preferred definition of mixed-income is more in line with the history of the practice than the CHA’s.
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hicago was the first city to implement intentionally mixed-income housing projects. Under CHA head Vincent Lane, the agency announced the development of the two-building Lake Parc Place in 1988. Half of Lake Parc’s apartments were reserved for “low-income” residents, or tenants making between fifty and eighty percent of Chicago’s median income, while the other half would be used for housing “very low-income” families, or those earning between thirty and fifty percent of the median income, and “extremely low-income” families, defined as those earning less than thirty percent of the area’s median. Today, “mixed-income” means, at least to the CHA, an even mix between market-rate, affordable, and public housing, meaning that only roughly a third of the units in any given development are reserved for all three of the income categories included in Lane’s original conception of mixed-income housing. D. Bradford Hunt is skeptical that 18 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY
this shift can be entirely explained by the desire to avoid concentrations of poverty. He’s not convinced that what the CHA considers a “true mix” is entirely necessary. “There are many varieties of mix,” he said. “And I wonder to what extent the numbers [financial considerations] drove that decision.” What is clear, Hunt says, is that the CHA is much more likely to pursue rehabilitation at sites like Altgeld, where—due to the location and the environmental issues—there’s no real interest from private developers. The pattern is so pronounced that tenants’ rights lawyer Robert Whitfield, who worked at the Chicago HUD Office of Fair Housing, believes that it warrants an investigation by HUD to see if CHA’s practices violate the Fair Housing Act or other federal fair housing laws and guidelines. Whitfield is also the general counsel for the Central Advisory Council, an elected body that represents Chicago public housing tenants as a whole. “The actions of the CHA toward Lathrop Homes and the Cabrini Row Houses,”
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he wrote in an email, “give the appearance, absent any other explanation, of being motivated because of the racial composition of those areas, and the fear that the addition of more public housing populated by African-American and Hispanic families will result in a decrease in the number of white families in those areas.” At the Cabrini Row Houses, another North Side development, residents were also initially promised a full rehabilitation. After CHA announced its plan to make Cabrini into a mixed-income development, residents sued for housing discrimination. The suit is ongoing. To Leah Levinger, director and founding member of the Chicago Housing Initiative, the difference in outcomes at Lathrop and Altgeld is easily explained. While the plan for redevelopment at Altgeld was put together by a third-party consultant, she explains, the Lathrop plan came from a team of five developers, headed by the firm Related Midwest, a company which previously specialized in luxury condominiums and rentals and has only recently taken up
affordable housing. “They’re the devil,” Levinger fake-whispers. She says the CEO told her explicitly that the company only got into affordable housing because after the 2008 crash the private market couldn’t sustain their Chicago office. “It’s a pretty typical way to keep capitalism alive during times of crisis,” Levinger says. “Use public money.” The money that developers like Related Midwest make on affordable housing projects comes from their fee, which, Levinger explains, is a percentage of the overall cost of the project. Since demolition is, on average, $100,000 more expensive per-unit than rehabilitation, there’s a clear incentive for these companies to push for demolition-heavy plans. The ironic result is that despite the fact that the CHA consistently cites avoiding concentrations of poverty as the main justification for its demolition of public housing stock, public housing that—like Lathrop—is located in a relatively wealthy area is far more likely to be demolished. For several years, Levinger has been
meticulously documenting fiscal improprieties at the CHA in an attempt to get HUD, which provides the vast majority of the housing authority’s funding, to intervene. The CHA was deregulated in 2000, while Rahm Emanuel was on the board, which means that its federal funding flows into one main operating fund instead of being earmarked for particular aspects of its operation. Levinger believes this makes federal oversight difficult, and has found that the CHA consistently receives operating funds for vacant units as if they were occupied, and even sometimes gets funding for units that no longer exist. Levinger also wonders what the CHA does with the $40 million it receives from HUD for about 13,000 Housing Choice Vouchers it chooses not to distribute. (A CHA spokesperson declined to offer an explanation for their decision to retain those 13,000.) In 2012, Levinger succeeded in getting Sandra Henriquez, the deputy assistant secretary for public and Indian housing at HUD, to come to Chicago to review evidence of fiscal mismanagement. In a meeting, she claims Henriquez stood up in frustration, and essentially abdicated HUD’s role in overseeing how the money they give to CHA is spent. “The message was,” Levinger says, “ ‘Yes there are serious managerial problems here, but we’re politically intimidated by your mayor.’ ” Later, I ask Levinger what she thinks of the Plan for Transformation’s dedication to mixed-income housing. “I think it’s great,” she says. “And when they start knocking down houses in Lincoln Park to make room for mixed-income housing I’ll believe everything they’re saying. But as long as they’re still building mixed-income on the backs of poor people, I’ll still feel like shooting someone.” “That Plan for Transformation,” Johnson told me, a few weeks earlier, “was thrown on us. It was a business. It wasn’t a service, it was a business.” “It’s always been a struggle for African-American people to find housing in Chicago,” she said. “I just can’t understand why, why we’re so racist, for lack of a better word, when you and I we breathe the same air, we were born the same way.” She paused. “You know why, because there’s money all tied up in it. You take the money out of racism, and there wouldn’t be no problem about race.”
t Lathrop, residents and activists still hope that they might be able to preserve the buildings, and preserve them for public housing. Since Lathrop is listed on the National Register
of Historic Places, there is a substantial tax credit available to its developers if they conserve enough of the historic buildings. The current plan, which conserves sixty percent of the original buildings, is still under review and may not satisfy this requirement. John McDermott, housing and land use director at the Logan Square Neighborhood Alliance, has worked closely with Lathrop residents and leaders for years. He thinks HUD has been less willing to approve large-scale demolition in recent years, and hopes that they might reject the CHA’s proposal. If this doesn’t happen, there’s still a chance that 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack, whose ward contains part of the northern portion of Lathrop, might be able to block the development. In order for the “iconic building,” to be built, all of Lathrop will need to be rezoned, a process which, as alderman, Waguespack might be able to block. He’s so far expressed a firm commitment to the cause of Lathrop’s residents. Suarez claims that the hold on new leasing at Lathrop, placed in 2003, is evidence that the CHA was “systematically trying to empty Lathrop out,” removing a major obstacle to demolition. “They were just waiting to be able to do what they want with Lathrop,” he says. Suarez is referring to a practice known as “de-facto demolition,” wherein the CHA, in order to justify demolition, uses Housing Choice Vouchers and holds on leasing to empty out public housing. Currently, most CHA tenants actually live in private buildings using vouchers. Though they theoretically offer a greater array of housing options, the voucher program has been accused of simply relocating tenants to poor, primarily minority communities—redistributing rather than deconcentrating poverty, and disrupting tenants’ relationships in the process. In 1995, residents at the Henry Horner Homes won a settlement in a lawsuit in which they charged that the CHA had engaged in “de-facto demolition” at their Near West Side development. Horner residents were allowed to choose, with a vote, between rehabilitation and demolition; they were also given the right to remain on-site throughout the process, and guaranteed one-to-one replacement of every public housing unit demolished. Perhaps inspired by the success at Horner, Kerby told me residents were considering suing to prevent demolition; with the exception of the right to remain on-site during construction, Lathrop residents haven’t been able to get the CHA to agree to
any of these demands. The numbers would seem to support their case: in 2000, there were 747 units occupied at the development, compared to today’s 152.
n the meantime, Altgeld residents have put forth their own community development plan for Altgeld and the surrounding area. The plan is an attempt “to show them,” Johnson says, “that we have a vision as much as they have a vision.” In collaboration with Architecture for Humanity and several green-tech businesses, including Biojam, a clean-energy company headed by PCR board president Christian Strachan, they plan to bring in a variety of green initiatives to create jobs and help deal with the persistent environmental problems in the area. To replace the open-air drying beds at the water reclamation plant, Strachan wants to create algae beds, which would reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous released into the Calumet River and Lake Michigan and also get rid of the smell. The resulting biomass could be used, he says, for fertilizer or alternative fuel, which would create jobs for residents. “This
isn’t just some feel-good story,” he told me over the phone. “This is a triple-bottom-line business. You have a challenge, you have a workforce that’s untapped. It’s a perfect opportunity.” “We look at environmental contamination as an environmental opportunity now,” Johnson said, “because technology is much better than it was thirty years ago, regulation is much better than it was thirty years ago, our knowledge of environmental issues is better than it was thirty years ago. Just from the fact that this place was built on top of a landfill, CHA has to be accountable for that. But now that we’ve been here sixty years, why not learn how to clean it up for the next five hundred years?” At the table in the back room of the PCR office, Johnson and fellow Altgeld residents Marguerite Jacobs and Georgia Curtis talk about the redevelopment and other future plans for their community. Jacobs has heard that a new marina behind Altgeld is going to be used to help handle shipments to the nearby port, and is trying to make sure that local youth have a chance to find work there. She’s involved with Prologue, a sys-
JANUARY 8, 2014 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 19
The Calumet Water Reclamation Plant, just north of Altgeld Gardens. tem of alternative schools that provides high school diplomas and GED, ESL, and vocational programs for those who never graduated. Prologue is also starting a maritime academy, which will prepare students for work in marinas and ports, just a few miles away. For the last three years, Jacobs has also been running a farmer’s market in Altgeld, six days a week, to help deal with the community’s lack of an adequate grocery store. After she’s done explaining all this, Johnson looks over at me and smiles. “All that,” she says, “and not one of the women in this room collects a real check.” Later, I offer to give Jacobs a ride over to the unit where she has her farmer’s market, at the northern edge of Altgeld. In the car she tells me that although she came back to Altgeld because she lost her house to a fire, “coming out here was my choice, because I wanted to get back on my feet instead of going somewhere where I’d have to struggle, where I didn’t know my neighbors.” At Altgeld she could spend 20 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY
more time with her kids, and had a network of support she could rely on. “It’s not that we want to live off public entitlement programs,” she says. “We just make decisions sometimes, not to work at Walmart every day for minimum wage.” She says she relies on this support network to watch after her youngest son, who’s in high school and still lives with her. Though Jacobs says she feels safe in Altgeld, she worries about him because of what she sees happening to so many other boys his age. Pulling up to the northern edge of the development, we can see the landfill off on the other side of I-94. Covered in snow, it looks just like a lumpy hill, the highest point for miles around. We pull up in front of the unit, and as soon as the car doors open the cold and the smell sweep in. “I’m glad I came back,” Jacobs says as she gets out. “I am not going to lose my baby to the streets.” ¬
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Farrakhan House In James Baldwin’s 1962 essay “Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in My Mind,” he recalls a dinner he had in a Hyde Park mansion with the Prophet Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam and mentor to Malcolm X: “I looked again at the young faces around the table, and looked back at Elijah, who was saying that no people in history had ever been respected who had not owned their land. And the table said, ‘Yes, that’s right.’ ” While the mansion which stands today at 4855 South Woodlawn is not the one Baldwin visited—it was constructed later, in 1972—it is a testament to the persistence of the vision Baldwin heard expressed by Elijah and affirmed by his disciples. After Elijah’s isabel death in 1975, the Nation of Islam split into two ochoa gold factions: one was led by his son, Warith Deen Muhammad, who embraced Islam and moved away from the black nationalism which characterized his father’s leadership, founding the American Society of Muslims. In 1977, Louis Farrakhan, who had served as a prominent minister under Elijah, led a group of Black Muslims to revive the name “Nation of Islam.” Warith Deen inherited the twenty-one-room house, its marble floors and crystal chandeliers, as well as the smaller houses built across the street where disciples lived. In the summer of 1985, Black Muslims protested his rights to the building—a 1986 Hyde Park Herald article describes them “brandishing picket signs and chanting” that Warith’s retention of assets which belonged to the organization made him “a traitor to his father and community.” In 1986, the Black Muslims were able to purchase the building—with the help of donations, bank loans, and a $5 million donation from Moammar Gadhafi, whom Louis Farrakhan, who lives in the house, once called a good friend. While the house and what it represents may not always inspire respect from all who behold it—the Libya connection, reports of Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism, and the Nation of Islam’s financial troubles all remain sources of controversy—it certainly demands attention. (Rachel Lazar)
JANUARY 8, 2014 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 21
Public Eye An interview with Todd Palmer, interim director of the National Public Housing Museum BY LAUREN GURLEY
ince the 1990s, over eighty public housing high-rises in Chicago have been razed to the ground. In the aftermath of these events, the country’s first National Public Housing Museum is in the works, at the last remaining building of the demolished Jane Addams Homes on the West Side. The museum’s planners hope to commemorate the untold stories of these displaced communities and address the future of public housing. Todd Palmer, the museum’s interim director, has been involved in the making of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Over the past year, Palmer and museum staff have been leading discussions about public housing throughout the Chicago area to gain citywide support for the museum’s opening mission. “Our goal,” he says, “is to create a more active and engaged public.” How does the National Museum of Public Housing fit into the history of public housing? The NMPH started out as a resident initiative in the late nineties, at a time when there were new ideas coming from President Clinton and Washington about how public housing should look. One of the big ideas was that they wanted to have public housing communities integrated with the larger communities. The way that took place in Chicago was that public housing high-rises became targeted for demolitions. The plan was to replace segregated communities with mixed-income communities, and that was known as the Plan for Transformation. The history of the museum comes out of that policy change. But it also comes out of the fact that these communities always had their own leadership. They had resident leaders who were elected by fellow residents. In our case, the leadership of ABLA—the Addams, Brooks, Loomis, and Abbott projects— was negotiating. The government couldn’t just come in and throw people out. So they did, in fact, restore the Brooks Homes . Then they were looking at the Addams homes, and realized that these are among the first public housing buildings built in the country. They were called demonstration projects, which meant they were almost prototypes under the New Deal. 22 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY
So they recognized the historical value of these homes as buildings. They were built by notable Chicago architects Holabird & Root, who were also the architects of the Board of Trade. The leaders said this is not only architecturally significant, but it’s also our lives that are lived here, our families, our memories, and we want you to figure out a way to remind people that public housing was home. Also, as the museum’s staff started doing the research they realized that the housing wasn’t always African-American. The building that we have—the first families to live there were Jewish, Mexican, and Russian and a whole range of ethnicities. They really resemble the West Side, which was a mosaic of culture then. And so they saved the building and now the museum is around to tell several different kinds of stories. It’s around to tell the story of the people who lived there more recently and it’s there to tell the story of the origin of public housing and what happened across that history. This is a museum of national public housing. Is the focus on Chicago? The idea is that we are in Chicago, so we want to use Chicago as the case study. And we will be in a real building where you can tell the stories of real people that lived in that building. You can also tell the stories
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courtesy of the national public housing museum
of people that lived down the street, and still live down the street in the Brooks Homes. You can tell the stories of the people who lived in Cabrini-Green, which is a
block away from our new office; you can tell stories of people who live in Altgeld Gardens, which is where President Obama got his start. That is Chicago. And what we’d
HISTORY like to do is create a network, and through social media and other means collect histories of public housing. We can start telling a national story because people will be surprised to learn that there are national figures like Sonia Sotomayor on the Supreme Court, who grew up in public housing in New York City. The founder of Starbucks (Howard Schultz) and Kenny Rogers grew up in public housing, as well as Jay-Z, and Lupe Fiasco from Chicago. So really, it’s national, but starting in Chicago. How can we learn from Chicago? Many other cities really did look to Chicago. Atlanta is a good example, they followed a similar path; and New York City, which has had the most resilient public housing that most resembles the idealism of the early days. And so Chicago is a very relevant example on which to base a conversation about public housing. Is the museum taking a stance in this conversation about public housing? We aren’t taking a stance. A museum by definition can’t take a stance. You would lose your non-profit status. There is a museum of the Holocaust and there’s the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York. Those are museums that raise consciousness about things that people should be thinking about. I think the museum is the right place to hear that debate about public housing. There are people who might think that the transformation of public housing as it occurred in Chicago is the right way to do it. There are people who say there should not be public housing in the first place, period. In fact, those opinions were part of how public housing got developed. If there weren’t those other voices, public housing might look different today. There has always been a debate. But what happens is that most people in their leisure time go to an art museum or maybe the symphony. We think that just as people are now using their leisure time to learn about the Holocaust and tenements, there could also be a place where we think about our neighbors who are poor and the housing crisis that’s striking many people of all economic groups, and how public housing fits into that future of our country. What can we expect the museum to look like? It will be a mix of experiences. The core of it is modeled on the Tenement Museum, which is an experience of domestic life,
literal apartments. We’ve been doing oral histories of three different families across three generations for the project. We’re doing the work now to figure out how their memories fit into the history of policy and design. If a Jewish family that kept kosher moved into the building when it was new, and in a never-cooked-in-before kitchen, that was very important. The problem of units and design comes out. In the fifties you have the changing social policies with the political decisions to divert money from cities to suburbs, and so even though in the fifties the building is still more than fifty percent white, and an Italian family is living there, you get a sense that it is very different from the thirties when there was still a hopefulness in public housing during the Great Depression. During the fifties when people started moving to suburbs, there were still white people who were poor, and they remember feeling that there was stigma attached to living in public housing that didn’t exist in the thirties because of different times, different history. And then in the sixties and seventies, the black families living there were very happy to be there because there weren’t a lot of options for working class families. This is a family that’s headed by a preacher. He’s not a poor man by any means. But he can’t move to the suburbs because the suburbs are by law for whites. There’s redlining and there are forces that don’t allow you to move up. Public housing is a step up for this family. Eventually, they do move out. So that’s the core experience. But then we’ll have all the things we do around the city now, like exhibits about music or architecture, or a conversation about the future of public housing. We’ll have spaces in this building for those things to happen and then our offices will be there too. So it’s kind of just like coming home. We will make an announcement for the time frame of the construction in the spring. We are in the midst of processing with the CHA (Chicago Housing Authority), which still owns the property. We’ve done about fifty percent of the fundraising we need. We have a little over three million dollars, and we are negotiating how we can start putting that money to work, building up at least a part of it so we can start giving apartment tours. Once they agree to transfer the property, then the clock starts ticking for construction, and when it will actually open depends on when those things occur. We’re hopeful that it will actually be in 2014. If that were to happen, it
courtesy of the national public housing museum
The animal sculpture garden outside the Jane Addams Homes. Addams was vacated in 2002; the only building still standing will soon house the National Public Housing Museum. would certainly be toward the end of 2014. What are some of the challenges in creating this museum? I think not everyone gets it. When you say “public housing museum,” people say, “I know there are art museums and maybe history museums, but why a museum of a history that seems in the mind’s eye to
be about something that’s bad?” So I think there’s a challenge in getting people to see what we see before there’s a museum and to challenge the preconceptions when there’s nothing there yet. So we try to do our programming and put up sample exhibits to get our story out there, and I think we have met the challenge. But it takes some convincing to get people to see our vision, and I think we are well on our way. ¬
JANUARY 8, 2014 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 23
A Dream Deferred The excellence and misdirection of “A Dream Foreclosed” BY PATRICK LEOW
“A Dream Foreclosed,” Laura Gottesdiener. Zuccotti Park Press. 213 pages. 24 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY
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aura Gottesdiener’s “A Dream Foreclosed” is the story of four men and women and their broken dreams. Though the four are dispersed around the country, they are all black, and all the victims of a housing crisis that has singlehandedly shattered their modest dreams of a better life. The spurt of foreclosures which began in 2007 was the product of “predatory targeting of people of color,” Gottesdiener claims. As a societal issue, this contemporary brand of racism can seem abstract. But though black Americans are no longer shunned on bus seats, at water fountains, or on the Mississippi Delta’s plains, they are nevertheless the victims of impenetrable legalese on predatory loans offered by companies with confusing acronyms for names. IMC and GMAC, and not George Wallace, represent the modern face of American racism. Gottesdiener’s interviews with these everymen put a human face to what can appear an intractable problem, lifting the veil on what it means to have lived through the effects of what amounts to a systematic destruction of Black America’s future. It’s a laudable effort, and her first two sections, entitled “The Dream” and “The Explosion,” go a long way in demonstrating that it is remarkably easy to fall victim to the wiles of an unforgiving financial and housing industry. Bertha Garrett, from Detroit, could be anybody’s grandmother: she was an “elegant and deeply religious” woman who loved the Bible, parties in her backyard, and her eighteen boisterous grandchildren. Her home on Pierson Street was her sanctuary for twenty-two years until she was foreclosed upon, after taking out a second mortgage to pay for the college tuition of her youngest daughter. In “The Fight,” the final section of the book, Gottesdiener shows how each of her four case studies battled the anonymous system and won. Her account of Martha Biggs’s triumph over chronic homelessness in Chicago’s West Side is the most moving of the lot; Gottesdiener allows Biggs’s impossibly precocious daughter Jajuanna to speak for herself, and it works. Jajuanna, all of fifteen, battles with depression in middle
school, cutting her wrists in seventh grade because she believes she is ultimately responsible for her family’s having to spend Chicago’s cold winters in a cramped minivan. We get a glimpse into her impossible burden: “I thought it would be better if I were gone,” she lets on. In 2011, when her mother is given a modest home in West Woodlawn that Jajuanna can finally call her own, it seems like manna from heaven. This ultimate release comes from the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, a nationally lauded organization that works in Chicago’s poorest communities to provide what it calls “home liberation.” In other words, they reclaim homes after they have been foreclosed upon by banks. It’s a grassroots effort to rehabilitate the properties and then hand them over to families who are in desperate need, at no cost to them. Martha and her brood were the beneficiaries of the first publicized “liberation” in the city, and their relief is palpably portrayed. The other three stories are also emotionally triumphal: Bertha Garrett manages to buy her house outright after the loan servicing company decides to cut its losses. Griggs Wimbley, who dreams of constructing a subdivision of suburban homes in sleepy Tempting Church Road, North Carolina, finds comfort in knowing that there are others who have similarly fallen prey to shadowy financial machinations in this rural town. And Michael Hutchins, a young disabled man in Chattanooga who sees a home as the key to his personal freedom, manages to defeat the local government’s attempt to close College Hill Courts, his beloved public housing complex. But beyond the warmth of their stories and their individual successes, Gottesdiener’s proposals for how to fight a housing system that seems determined to tear apart the dreams of poor black families are often deeply frustrating. Having laid bare what housing discrimination looks like, Gottesdiener then spends much of the latter half of her book trying to show how this system can be fought and, ultimately, beaten. But the tactics underpinning that war are
FORECLOSURES confusing: a mix of bottom-up organizing, renovations on the cheap, and disruptive public disobedience. More to the point, this is a book not only about the American foreclosure crisis, but also the Occupy movement, and how it was the only group enlightened enough to see the truth about America’s systematic marginalization of its weakest. The fight against foreclosure, Gottesdiener suggests, perhaps finds a natural home in a movement that was founded on the central premise that the American banking industry is deeply corrupt. Gottesdiener herself was an active member in the New York City chapter of Occupy, and the personal stories she includes in “A Dream Foreclosed” are not simply telling accounts of people who have fallen victim to banking foreclosure. They are all also designed to be paeans to the successes of Occupy and its tactics. But though Gottesdiener is quick to claim public opinion for her side, such a claim is dubious. Her account is littered with sweeping statements: the Bank of New York Mellon, for example, is bluntly described as being “despised in Detroit”, without any substantiation for such a claim. Simi-
lar exhortations that Occupy speaks for an amorphous “community” litter the book, and Gottesdiener uses phrases like “the 99%” to stake out an assumed moral high ground. One suspects merely purporting to speak for everyone is much easier than actually convincing people that your political position is one they should support. The book is also shoddily researched, and serves to undermine the claims she is making about the national housing industry. Gottesdiener has never lived in any of the four cities portrayed in the book, and her unfamiliarity with the local conditions is apparent. Portions of the book set in Chicago are egregiously wrong. She states that Cabrini-Green’s future was threatened by its potential redevelopment into student housing by the University of Chicago, half a city away. Woodlawn is depicted only as a hellhole of unremitting violence, shorn of any redeeming qualities. A citation supporting the notion that Mayor Emanuel has spent $4 million tearing down 200 vacant properties bizarrely links to an article about Occupy Auckland in the New Zealand Herald. The book is published by Zuccotti Park Press, an outfit that describes itself on its website as being driven
by “the advocacy of social change.” This is a polemical work whose main purpose is to sustain an attack on the financial industry, and that ideological slant comes at the expense of the facts. Lastly, her remedies appear frightfully fringe. Her most well-developed argument centers on a tactic she calls “eviction blockades,” where activists forcibly attach themselves to their homes. She admiringly, and graphically, describes how the act of chaining one’s own neck to a structure with a bicycle U-lock is coming increasingly into vogue. “Hard lockdowns are not for the faint of heart,” she writes, noting that police have to drill just inches from the neck with diamond saws to extricate protestors. It’s unclear what emotional outbursts in this vein are meant to accomplish. Gottesdiener vividly illustrates a modern fracture in the leftist coalition, as these portions of the young and minority population in the United States see government not as a the means for a Great Society but as something irreparably hostile to equality. This leads them to forsake mainstream politics entirely, and it is telling that Occupy has not made any inroads in electing candidates that are friendly to their ideas at
the municipal, state, or federal level. Rather than being content with achieving minor victories that fail to alter the basic calculus of this system, activists like Gottesdiener would perhaps be better served attempting to reform government itself. Politics, after all, is the strong and slow boring of hard boards, rather than the capture of sensational, and fleeting, headlines. With its heft and resources, only organized government can bring about change in a societal problem that appears as intractable as discriminatory housing practices, to ensure that predatory loan servicers can no longer victimize humble families like those presented to us in this book. Yet the first half of “A Dream Foreclosed” is excellent, and Gottesdiener presents us with sufficiently robust evidence for the notion that lending practices, since at least the 1990s, have in fact conspired to ruin the lives of millions of black Americans like the four she profiles. But without a realistic method for undoing such misdeeds, well-intentioned efforts like “A Dream Foreclosed” cannot hope to find a way in which this basic human right can truly be protected. ¬
JANUARY 8, 2014 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 25
Temporary Living A rising number of homeless students in CPS reveals a continuing lack of institutional support BY BEA MALSKY
n grander days, Tilden Career Community Academy housed an aviation program alongside its academics. When it was built in 1905, the building was intended for 2,400 students; it had three gymnasiums, and its massive footprint took up an entire block in Back of the Yards. Today the building remains the same, but Tilden has an enrollment of only about 340 students, 192 of whom were classified last year as homeless by the city’s Students in Temporary Living Situations (STLS) program. Last year saw a total of 18,669 homeless students identified in Chicago Public Schools. This year, that number is on track to rise by over twenty-five percent. “When I come to school and see all these empty lots, I can remember houses, families, friends in a lot of these areas,” says Michael Finney, community connector and director of after-school programs at Tilden. “Now the houses are gone. Nine times out of ten, the people are gone from the area. It creates a situation of poverty.” When we meet, Finney’s hands and face are flecked with the bright yellow— he’s painting a room intended to host the school’s after-school radio program. He has a few students in to help him even on a Friday afternoon over break, lured with the promise of a free lunch. Finney is hopeful about the school’s future; “Tilden, we’re on the upward move,” he says. In the 20112012 school year Tilden received six million dollars in a federal School Improvement Grant. In the following year CPS implemented a contentious “turnaround” at the school, replacing its principal and the majority of its staff. This past fall, the school moved up from a Tier 3 to Tier 2 quality rating. Still, Tilden has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the CPS system, and last year these students received none of the federal aid promised by the STLS program. J.D. Klippenstein, a community organizer with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), discovered this oversight. “We had students call the head of the homeless program at CPS twice a day 26 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY
for two weeks, until she finally said: ‘All I Rather than a specific problem of Tildo is tell the principal how much to spend, den’s, Klippenstein sees this as the systemic and then I don’t check. I don’t check if they result of a lack of training from CPS, and spend this money or not,’ ” Klippenstein a lack of accountability between individusays. The students then wrote a letter to the al schools and central offices. “What happrincipal, who gave it to the school clerk. pened at Tilden last year likely happened “The clerk told them, ‘I have no idea what at dozens, if not hundreds, of other CPS you’re talking about. We don’t set aside schools because of a lack of training, undermoney for homeless students.’ ” standing, and oversight,” he says. As the CPS document outlining the rights of homeless stu“What happened at Tilden last dents promises, “every CPS homeyear likely happened at dozens, less student shall if not hundreds, of other CPS have equal access to the same free and schools because of a lack of appropriate educatraining, understanding, and tional opportunities as students who are oversight.” not homeless.” This includes the right to immediate school enrollment, priority in certain preschool programs, free uniA 1999 class action lawsuit by CCH’s forms, and fee waivers for necessities such Law Project against CPS resulted in the as field trips, lab supplies, and graduation establishment of a homeless education profees, provided to schools as block grants gram and a system of liaisons at the school from Title I federal funds. level, but the development is ongoing. These rights are outlined in the McK- “There’s a good framework for what they’re inney-Vento Homeless Education Assis- supposed to do, but it just doesn’t always tance Act, which also requires that each happen at the individual school level,” says school provide transportation for students Patricia Nix-Hodes, associate director of who relocate due to unstable housing, CCH’s Law Project. which may take the form of CTA cards or “There’s a lack of training, there’s a school buses. This is intended to prevent lack of people even checking up on schools. students from having to switch schools I think you get a certain distance south, each time they switch housing. The federal and the central office is like ‘Oh, that’s too definition of homeless, also laid out in the far away,’ ” says Klippenstein. He laughs, “I act, includes situations that many consider don’t think that’s literally how they think, far less extreme, including children living but it’s how they act.” with relatives or families doubling up due Klippenstein also worries that the to financial strain. numbers of kids in the program are draLast year, Tilden had no record of a matically underreported due to a combinabudget for these services and no record of it tion of social stigma and lack of eligibility being spent. “Basically the clerk was right. awareness. “I think that a lot of families She had never heard of it. They had never don’t even realize they would qualify for set aside any of their money,” says Klippen- this, because doubling up and moving from stein. place to place is just normal. It’s something
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that they’ve always done. When you say that qualifies as homeless, they’re like: ‘I’m not homeless. I’m not living on the street. I’m not begging for change,’ ” Klippenstein says. Patricia Rivera worked in CPS for thirty-three years, first as a social worker and then as a program manager for STLS. Though retired, she now serves as the volunteer executive director for a nonprofit providing after-school tutoring to children in shelters. She had a part in removing the word “homeless” from the CPS program’s name in an attempt to decrease stigma, increase rates of reportage, and to emphasize the disruption that unstable housing can cause in a student’s academic trajectory. “If they change schools, kids are set back academically three to six months in their academic advancement. Now, if they’re in the shelter system a long time, they pretty much stagnate,” she says. Nevertheless, Rivera is quick to recall high school students she’s worked with who will travel for over an hour on the CTA, make sure they get themselves to school on time, and excel academically despite not having anywhere in the shelters to do their homework. “They know that in order to get ahead they need an education,” she says. As CPS upheaval continues amid closures, Klippenstein remains sure that teaching homeless students and families their rights is an important effort for CCH. “The idea is that it’s changing the way that these homeless families interact with the institutions that they’re involved in,” he says. “Right now there’s this lack of awareness, this total sense of powerlessness, so right now the work we do is to try to start changing the way they interact with their school.” Even so, the truth remains that there are only four or five full-time staff at the STLS program tasked with serving nearly twenty thousand students. Homeless liaisons at individual schools remain unpaid and relatively unsupervised, though a new line item required in school budgets raises accountability—in part due to CCH’s re-
cent advocacy work. CPS is a school system of over four hundred thousand students, with a low-income rate of eighty-seven percent. At Tilden, Michael Finney believes that the need is simply too great for the central office to handle alone. In the meantime, it’s up to individuals to do what they can. “If I see somebody freezing and I know they need a coat, I’m not going to wait to get approval from the school or anybody. Hey, this person is cold. They’re freezing. Help them out.” Chicago Hopes, Patricia Rivera’s in-shelter tutoring program, was denied CPS funds and now operates by means of donations, unpaid internships, and volunteer time. When asked if she thinks this is right, Rivera sighs. “I think these services should be provided to the kids, period,” she says. “It would be great if the shelters could provide; it would be great if CPS would provide. They’re not doing it, so we’re in there trying to fill a need. I really think the school system should do this, but in the meantime we’re there.” ¬
isabel ochoa gold
The Bungalow The Chicago bungalow—sturdy, low slung and emblematic—is here to stay. Perfect roosts for big shoulders, bungalows account for almost one-third of Chicago’s single family housing today, and have been an aesthetic and residential staple in the lives of Chicago communities and families for over one hundred years. Most sit arced in a crescent framing the western swath of Chicago—from Lincoln Square in the north, through the West Side to Auburn Gresham in the southwest and down to kiss the lake at South Shore. This so-called “bungalow belt” fosters some 80,000 residences and eighteen historic neighborhoods. A true Chicago bungalow must meet several criteria, including a construction date between 1910-1940, a brick face with a stone trim, a low-pitched roof, and an offset entrance, often on the side. These, among others, allow for conservationists to identify and help preserve historic bungalows as a distinctly Chicago architectural style. (Jack Nuelle)
Yale Apartments Constructed in 1892, the Yale Apartments in Englewood still stands, handsome and proud. It is a solid example of the Romanesque Revival style popularized by architect Henry Hobson Richardson, who incorporated 11th and 12th century French, Spanish, and Italian influences into his work. In addition to detailed and elegant facades, the building incorporates a twenty-five-by-eighty-foot skylight in its atrium, dramatic even today. It was restored at a cost of $9.5 million in 2003—for a long time it had been vacant and was slated for demolition—and won city landmark status in April of the same year. Its original fifty-three twoand three-bedroom apartments have been divided into sixty-eight one-bedroom apartments, which are now rented at affordable costs to seniors. Once a symbol of the middle-class property boom in Gilded Age Chicago, Yale Apartments now provides a dignified residence to Englewood community members who need it most. (Emily Holland)
JANUARY 8, 2014 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 27
Old Neighbors T
he Hyde Park and Kenwood neighborhoods are much more than a pit stop for architectural tours of Chicago. Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiasts get a special kick in witnessing not one, but two of the architect’s most acclaimed works located within just six blocks of one another: the Robie House and the Isidore H. Heller House. As classic examples of Wright’s Prairie School style—a design intended to evoke prairie surroundings and meld with the Midwestern landscape—the cultural significance of these two homes speaks for itself, without any tour guide explanations. As travelers hop between President Obama’s and Muhammad Ali’s respective Kenwood mansions, yet another two homes also designed by Wright pass in and out of view, unnoticed. The Warren McArthur and George Blossom houses, each designed in 1892, lack the architect’s distinctive strokes for residential exteriors. A jaundice-yellow paint coat, a decaying front porch; from the road the Blossom House looks far past its bloom. Instead of geometric outlays, flat roves, and horizontal features, the outside façades are marked most notably by their deteriorating condition in an otherwise well-kept row of homes. Privately owned for over sixty years, the Blossom and McArthur houses had fallen into the background of Kenwood’s architectural and historical identity. But a recent bid to restore and convert the properties into a bed and breakfast by Jennifer Pritzker’s Tawani Enterprises, and the community strife that has ensued, have helped rebrand the properties as landmarks for the community. “I think [the houses] are almost invisible,” said Chuck Thurrow, who has lived just three houses north of the McArthur House for the past fifteen years. The former head of the Chicago Landmark Commission, Thurrow was an early player in engaging neighbors about the proposal, hosting an informational meeting back in August of 2013. “When I went around door to door inviting people to my meeting it was really 28 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY
quite startling the number of people who didn’t even know they were Frank Lloyd Wright’s. Probably about half the people I talked to. They have been just kind of sitting there.” Initially, Thurrow recalled, immediate neighbors were skeptical of the feasibility of the bed and breakfast initiative, but largely optimistic that the buyers could fund the costly renovations required of each property. The McArthur and Blossom houses have been in the hands of two families since 1954 and 1956 respectively. The owners are Ruth Michael and Alice Baum, each of whom were prominent female Chicago artists in their day. In their old age they decided to move out of the rundown homes. Their children, Charlie Baum and Louisa McPharlin, who both grew up in the properties, are handling the affairs of the sales. For McPharlin, who serves as the broker for both properties, Lloyd Wright transcends the walls of her childhood home. “I, personally, developed a lifelong passion for buildings and one of my life changing moments at seventeen was doing the makeup for Frank Lloyd Wright, Carl Sandburg and Alistair Cooke for their television meeting on Channel 11 which in its early days was located in the Museum of Science and Industry and where I had an after high school job on the stage crew,” said McPharlin in a community-circulated email. “When I told Mr. Wright that I lived in one of his houses he asked which one and, when I told him, he asked how I liked the sideboard in the dining room.” The email, postmarked December 10, conveyed McPharlin’s dismay with the outcome of a spirited community meeting that had been held three weeks prior, a meeting that marked a shift in the reception of the bed and breakfast proposal. On November 18 in St. Paul and the Redeemer Church, Hyde Park and Kenwood community members gathered with 4th Ward Alderman Will Burns to discuss the Tawani proposal that would convert the architectural sites into a commercial enteprise. Something of a neighborhood knock-out unfurled.
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Kenwood’s rediscovery of Frank Lloyd Wright BY JOY CRANE
“The woman who made the opening remarks, she made a statement that there’s going to be a zoning change over her dead body, and she’s been living in the neighborhood for sixty years. And she knew the mayor and she would get the mayor to go down on everyone if this went through. So that was the kick-off kind of mood,” said Thurrow. Some community members were highly opposed to a commercial presence in the residential area. “It was the kind of the tone that the Tawani foundation was just trying to make a buck off the neighborhood. That was the tone of the meeting. And for the life of me I can’t figure out how they are going to make a buck off of it at all.” The owners of the properties were also not made aware of a community meeting and “were shocked and saddened at what happened that night,” according to McPharlin. Responding to the tone of the meeting, Alderman Burns decided that the new zoning rights necessary for the properties to be converted into a bed and breakfast would not be granted. Back at square one, the houses remain on the market at $1.1 million each, with no clear future. The properties are greatly in need of restoration, the cost of which is estimated around the order of $2.5 million. It’s hard to imagine a prospective buyer that wouldn’t be discouraged by the upfront expense necessary just to render the properties livable. And if the houses stay on the market unrepaired for another two years, historical and architectural experts said at a forum last month, damage to the structures will become irreversible. “You can imagine someone coming along and having that same amount of passion about that weekend and obviously have lots lots of spare cash. I’ve been trying to find a billionaire who wanted a pet building and to take them over,” said Thurrow. While awaiting their savior “billionaire,” the properties have opened their doors more frequently to the Kenwood public than ever before. A host of events
to explain the cultural significance of the properties and open-house showings have strengthened the bond between Lloyd Wright’s early bastions and Kenwood neighbors of the now. Wright kind of re-imagined modern architecture from the inside out,” said Jack Spicer, a member of the board of the Hyde Park Community Conference and Chair of the Preservation Committee. Stating he “couldn’t care less” about the bed and breakfast debacle, Spicer stressed that the salient issue is the upkeep and restoration of the homes’ internal design. “And [Wright] really did it. He did something in the McArthur house that you’ll see again in 1959 at the Guggenheim in New York. A weird, absolutely brand new way of organizing space. And he’s already doing it in 1892. He hasn’t figured out how to make the outside of the building reflect what he’s doing on the inside, as he does in the Robie house,” he said. The interiors of the homes, the way that the light, passing through art-glass windows, travels leadingly between rooms, is where Wright’s signature style is laid bare. “Standing from the outside you look at them and think, uh, not the height of Wright’s career. But once you go inside you see: He’s already got it. He’s already figured out this magic formula for making you experience interior space in a whole different way.” Although their financial future is uncertain, the Kenwood community’s newfound investment in the homes bodes well for their future. A master of marrying context and mortar, Wright was continually seeking to integrate with the landscape. Through informational meetings and openhouse showings, Blossom and McArthur houses may be finally staking their ground in Kenwood. For Spicer, the doors to Wright’s legacy in Kenwood are wide open. “All you have to do is walk in.” ¬
JANUARY 8, 2014 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 29
From the Ground Up
isabel ochoa gold
In “Planning Chicago,” make no little plans
Trumbull Park Homes
BY JAKE BITTLE
n Chicago, the word “planning” often evokes the image of Daniel Burnham and his 1909 “Plan of Chicago.” In his famous plan, Burnham proposed superhighways and lakefront parks and, while it was never implemented wholesale, its cohesive vision regarding the downtown and lakefront areas helped put Chicago on track to become a modern city. But “Planning Chicago,” a historical take on Chicago’s urban transformation published last February, argues that the stronger push for Chicago’s modern development came long after Burnham. The Chicago we know, the book claims, was developed not with one big plan but with many small skirmishes and a few big oversights. In their book, authors D. Bradford Hunt and Jon DeVries, both of Roosevelt University make the claim that city planning by city officials, or a lack thereof, is responsible for Chicago’s current economic and social condition. But what exactly is city planning? Planning can involve anything from transportation infrastructure to the construction of upscale housing developments, from public parks to rail yards. In short, it involves making decisions about what to do in order to make a city, and make a city better. And as the authors argue, it is something that the city of Chicago has neglected since Burnham’s “Plan” was released. The best chapters of the book are those that examine three very different neighborhoods: Little Village, Englewood, and Uptown. Taken as a whole, the chapters demonstrate how planning can make or break a neighborhood. In Englewood, for example, poor planning turned a formerly thriving commercial area into an impoverished neighborhood with few spaces for community members to gather. Hunt and DeVries argue that the city attempted to develop commercial spaces and Kennedy-King Community College without 30 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY
forming a cohesive long-term plan for the neighborhood, letting vacant lots and foreclosed homes multiply in Englewood. The Englewood Quality of Life Plan, however, developed in 2005, offers a complete vision for commercial and residential redevelopment but has, unfortunately, been stymied by a lack of funding. The book nicely handles Chicago’s journey from a “rust belt metropolis” to a modern world city. Though the chapters on the history of the city’s industrial policies are not exactly exciting, they help readers understand the importance of Chicago’s railroads and factories. Particularly important was the redevelopment the city did in the Lake Calumet industrial district. The expansion of the Calumet industrial park played an instrumental role in attracting Ford Motors, which was looking for a city to build a huge supply plant. Ford decided on Chicago because of skillful real estate planning and development in Calumet, and their supplier park has been an economic boon for the city. After covering industrial Chicago, the authors move on to postindustrial Chicago, discussing the history behind tourist destinations such as Navy Pier and Millennium Park, two of the city’s most popular attractions. Particularly memorable is the chapter about the political battles over Navy Pier. It is a shame that the book’s first section, which tells the story of the Loop’s growth over the twentieth century, is not nearly as interesting. It focuses far too much on the politicking between different planning organizations within the city government. Very rarely in this section do Hunt and DeVries actually discuss what was built in the Loop over the years. At the end of the book, however, in discussing twenty-first century planning, the authors reveal interesting details about the forthcoming six-block extension of the Chicago Riverwalk and Northerly Island, which is
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slated for a massive redesign under local architect Jeanne Gang. Hunt and DeVries conclude by arguing that Chicago should return to the days of Burnham’s “grand plans” instead of neglecting long-term, cohesive city planning. This is hardly surprising, considering who they are and who their publisher is (the press division of the American Planning Association, which represents city planners from across the country), but by the end of the book they have shown that city planning has significantly influenced the course of Chicago’s development. The only thing that makes the thesis in “Planning Chicago” hard to swallow is the fact that it is simply not an engaging book. It features extensive sections of trivial information about which organization wanted to plan what, why they wanted to plan it, why they couldn’t plan it, and so on. It is understandable for a book written by planners to in some sense be for planners, but such dirges of seemingly inconsequential history sometimes make reading the book like searching for diamonds in the rough. Still, even though there might be more interesting books about Chicago out there, “Planning Chicago” provides a well-researched look into a neglected side of our city’s history. ¬ “Planning Chicago,” by D. Bradford Hunt and Jon B. DeVries. APA Planners Press. 336 pages.
Built in 1938, Trumbull Park Homes was one of the first three housing projects of the CHA, constructed by the federal Public Works Administration in 1938. The building is made of brick and, in keeping with other Chicago housing projects, angular and utilitarian, subordinating form to function. The homes—which sit at 105th Street and Yates Avenue—were originally erected in an all-white neighborhood, and so, due to unspoken CHA policy, only white residents could move in. In 1953, however, the CHA mistook Betty Howard, a fair-skinned black woman, for white and allowed her to move into the homes, thereby integrating Trumbull. Race riots ensued, with attackers targeting Betty and her husband Donald’s home. Out of this conflict came a call for further integration in Trumbull homes. Ten more black families moved into the complex that same year, leading to further riots. Trumbull Park Homes, and its history, still stands today. (Emma Collins)
The Greystone Greystone buildings, characterized by their limestone façades made from southern Indiana stone, are brick homes usually two to three stories tall, though some reach up to six stories. The style was utilized from the 1890s to the 1930s, when middle class residents were the most popular tenants. Limestone is easily carved, and there were primarily two architectural motifs used in construction: Romanesque, characterized by arches and cornices, and Neoclassical, incorporating bay windows and columns. An estimated 30,000 greystones are left in the city. The Ida B. Wells-Barnett House, which housed the journalist and activist Ida B. Wells from 1919 to 1929, is one. Located between 36th Street and 37th Street on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, and employing a late-nineteenth century Romanesque style, the home is a prime example of this quintessentially Chicago architecture. (Jason Huang)
ARTS CALENDAR VISUAL ARTS Concealed Carry Look at the people sitting around you. What are the odds that one of them has a gun hidden inside their coat? In Illinois, the odds might have just gotten higher. The Firearm Concealed Carry Act officially took effect on January 1, making Illinois the last state in the country to allow residents to carry concealed weapons in public. The Experimental Station has jumped into the debate over this new legislation with a two-week art exhibit featuring over a dozen contributors, including E.C. Brown, Russ White, Jennifer Ray, and the Kite Collective. Citizens who want to add their voices to the debate can attend two evenings of public conversation at the Station, hosted by Steve Edwards of Chicago Public Radio (January 14 and 22, both 7pm-9 pm). You won’t know if any of the viewers are armed, but the exhibit itself will definitely be packing heat. Experimental Station, 6100 S. Blackstone Ave. Through January 23. Opening reception Thursday, January 9, 5pm-8pm. Tuesday-Saturday, 11am-6pm. Free. (773)241-6044. experimentalstation.org (Sharon Lurye)
Everything Will Be Okay Chicago artist Jerry Koepp’s paintings capture the essence of human experience. He forgoes traditional styles of painting in favor of pure abstraction. His subject matter is visceral, not material. He deals not in physical experiences, but in the emotional life that underlies them. Vast swaths of color, arranged in dramatic chiaroscuro, convey the quintessence of the feelings Koepp chooses to illustrate, untempered by the trappings of the physical world. His work transcends both language and physicality, yet remains fiercely emotionally evocative. In his upcoming exhibition at the Chicago Art Department, Koepp explores transformations spurred by failure. His paintings—through the interplay of color, light, and shadow—trace the deeply human, and deeply relatable, journey from failure to adaptation to growth. Koepp’s works offer a rare glimpse into the shared inner life of humanity, in a style that is universally understood. Chicago Art Department, 1932 S. Halsted #100. Opens January 10, 6pm-10pm. Other hours by appointment. Free. (312)725-4223. chicagoartdepartment.org (Emma Collins)
Artists ‘n Ales It’s been said that drinking beer with friends is the highest form of art there is. Could, then, drinking beer with art be the highest form of friendship? Bring your friends and decide for yourself at “Artists ‘n Ales,” held at Bridgeport’s Co-Prosperity Sphere. Explore the intersection of art, beer, food, culture, and society with beer-themed artwork. While you hop from piece to piece, enjoy craft beer from breweries such as 4 Hands, Pipeworks, Half Acre, and 3 Floyd’s, among others. Take this opportunity to escape a blustery January Saturday and immerse yourself in art and craft beer, two of Chicago’s most creative scenes. Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219-21 S. Morgan St. Saturday, January 11, 3pm-7pm. $25. 21+. coprosperity.org (Eric Green)
Parrottree The Renaissance Society will soon be home to a new solo exhibition by Berlin-based artist Nora Schultz. The first show curated at the Renaissance Society by new Executive Director and Chief Curator Solveig Øvstebø, “Parrottree— Building for Bigger Than Real” combines found material from Schultz’s studio and the exhibition space itself into sculptures and functional printing devices. The sculptures add depth to themselves by presenting the opportunity to make two-dimensional works out of the three-dimensional—Schultz uses her found-material presses and printers to churn out 2D art within the space, often in front of an audience. With related events including poetry readings, concerts, and guided walkthroughs led by curator Hamza Walker, Nora Schultz’s first American solo show is bound to leave its mark. The Renaissance Society, 5811 S. Ellis Ave., fourth floor. January 12-February 23. Opening reception Sunday, January 12, 4pm-7pm. Tuesday-Friday, 10am-5pm; Saturday-Sunday, noon-5pm. Free. (773)702-8670. renaissancesociety.org (Katryce Lassle)
National Wet Paint MFA Biennial Get a glimpse at the future of contemporary painting at Zhou B Art Center’s National Wet Paint MFA Biennial. All featured artists are current Master of Fine Arts candidates or recent MFA recipients, chosen from a pool of submissions from painting programs across the United States. Curated by 33 Contemporary Gallery director Sergio Gomez and featuring forty-six artists, this fourth installment of the
Wet Paint Biennial will be a thorough and engaging survey of young contemporary painters and the MFA programs they represent. Zhou B Art Center, 1029 W. 35th St. January 13-February 15. Opening reception Friday, January 17, 7pm10pm. Monday-Saturday, 10am-5pm; also by appointment. Free. (773)523-0200. wetpaintmfa.com(Katryce Lassle)
STAGE & SCREEN Seven Guitars Following the lives of six friends gathered in Pittsburgh in 1948 for the funeral of a seventh, August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars” is being resurrected this month by Court Theatre’s artist in residence, Ron OJ Parson. The fallen friend is Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton, a blues guitarist who died in obscurity. The play, which won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Best Play Award after its 1996 debut, traces the lives of these seven friends through flashbacks and explores the harmonies and false notes of life, death, hope, and destiny, with the aid of a seven piece band. Seven Guitars is the 1940s installment of Wilson’s “Pittsburgh Cycle,” an award winning series of plays that takes an intimate, powerful look at life in Pittsburgh through the decades. Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave. January 9-February 9. See website for showtimes. $15-$45. (773)753-4472. courttheatre.org (Lillian Selonick)
Inequality for All The University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics will be
instituting a screening of “Inequality for All,” a movie by professor, author, Clinton administration Secretary of Labor, and liberal heartthrob Robert Reich. The film covers the problem of rising inequality in America, mixing economic narrative with the personal victuals of Reich’s life that pushed him towards labor advocacy. Today’s income gap between the richest one percent and the plebeian ninety-nine percent is as large as it was during the 1920s. Reich’s film promises to enrage you about this, if you were too sleepy to be angered before. Reich, who has had the honor of being called a Communist by Bill O’Reilly, will be in attendance at the showing and available to answer questions, confessions, and concerns from the crowd. And if you go, all you have to lose are the manacles that bind you to the iniquities of the neoliberal establishment, for admission is free. Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St. Friday, January 10, 7pm-9:30pm. Free. politics.uchicago.edu (Josh Kovensky)
Gorilla Battle of The Bands
Off The Hookah With the polar vortex now out in full force, your chance of seeing any bare-midriffed Chicagoans out and about is slim to none. Luckily for all enthusiasts of innies and outies alike, the Shrine will be showcasing a belly-dancing extravaganza at Wednesday night’s “Off The Hookah” event. The event promises to combine The Shrine’s signature hip-hop mixes with abdominal theatrics and Middle Eastern-themed aesthetics. For those who are wary of bad puns and overly romanticized representations of “The East,” “Off The Hookah” might not be the party you’re looking for; but for anyone who wants to enjoy drinks with names like “Sinbad” and “Karmasutra,” the Shrine is calling your name. The Shrine, 2109 S. Wabash Ave. Wednesday, January 8, 9pm. $15. (312)753-5700. theshrinechicago.com (Zach Goldhammer)
Anthony Pateras Australian-born, Berlin-based experimental composer and improviser Anthony Panteras, will be coming to Chicago for a rare solo piano performance at the Logan Center Penthouse. Though Pateras will be playing an acoustic set, the sounds produced by the eighty-eight keys of his board are likely to be different from anything you have ever heard before. Pateras, who is known for his use of prepared pianos as well as vintage analog synthesizers, favors a harsh, distorted, and brutalized sound palette played at a furious, renegade pace. The concert will be hosted by Chicago’s Lampo, a non-profit organization dedicated to the presentation of electronic and electroacoustic music and the curation of novel sounds. Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., Saturday, January 11, 8pm. Free. (773)702-2787. arts.uchicago.edu
“Battle of the bands” contests sometimes get a bad rap. For some, the very name conjures up images of beer-soaked basements and acne-plagued teens beating out three-chord anthems in the hopes of greater fame and glory. For better or for worse, that more primitive era of amplified battle has been replaced by the far sleeker contest hosted by Gorilla Music, “Your Local Band Booking Experts.” This company, which has been rigging up gladiatorial battles for six-string warriors across the country, will be bringing king-making powers to Chicago this Sunday. Among the bands competing will be E-Wing Brass Band, The Giving Moon, Still No Parking, Cut Your Own Smile, and College Transfer Student. Reggies Music Joint, 2105 S. State St. Sunday, January 12, 7:30pm. $10-$12. (312)949-0120. reggieslive.com (Zach Goldhammer)
Pacifica Quartet Continuing its artist-in-residence performance series at the University of Chicago, the Pacifica Quartet will be playing this Sunday at the Logan Center for Performing Arts. The group, which was named Ensemble of the Year by Musical America in 2009 along with a bevy of previous prizes and accolades, will be performing Mozart’s “String Quartet in F Major,” Shostakovich’s “Quartet No. 7 in F Sharp Minor” and Brahm’s “String Quartet in C Minor.” The quartet is well known for lively, dynamic—yet firmly controlled—performances, and is sure to excite audiences from all walks of life. For those who are looking to get more scholarly perspective on these pieces, Associate Professor of Music Steven Rings will be giving a pre-performance lecture. Don’t miss a chance to see one of the nation’s best quartets perform in concert. Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St. Sunday, January 12, 2pm lecture and 3pm performance. $25 for public, $5 for students. (773)702-2787. chicagopresents.uchicago.edu (Zach Goldhammer)
On Grace and Politics: A Conversation with Anna Deavere Smith and Toni Preckwinkle Toni Preckwinkle is the president of the Cook County Board. Anna Deavere Smith is a celebrated actress and playwright. You may think that the two women would have little cause for a public, ticketed conversation. Nevertheless, the two will meet at the Logan Center for the Arts for a conversation “on grace and politics.” Grace and politics, two other unlikely partners. Smith is currently in residency at the Logan Center, working with cellist Joshua Roman to develop a theatrical work, entitled “On Grace.” In previous interview-based works, Smith has portrayed a swath of political figures, and she had a turn as National Security Adviser on acclaimed television series “The West Wing.” No word on whether Preckwinkle has ever played an actress. This event is co-sponsored by UChicago Arts, the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, and the Institute of Politics. Logan Center for the Arts, Performance Hall. 915 E. 60th St. January 13, 7pm. Free, reservations prefered. (773)702-2787. graceandpolitics. eventbrite.com (Meaghan Murphy)
A Dream Deferred or a Dream Come True? As Martin Luther King, Jr. Day nears, the DuSable Museum presents a musical tribute featuring Ernest Dawkins and Khari B. The show will be a combination of spoken word and music, with the score composed and conducted by Dawkins, and the poetics invoked in title delivered by self-described Discopoet Khari B. Both artists have a long history in Chicago; the former leads multiple local music ensembles, and the latter has been named one of the city’s “most inspiring poets” by the Tribune. As a further recommendation for the King-inspired work, the two have a history of collaboration, with previous pieces taking on various tragedies in Chicago’s racially fraught past, including the Chicago Seven trials and the murders of Fred Hampton and Emmett Till. DuSable Museum, 740 E. 56th Pl. Friday, January 17, 7pm-9pm. $20. (773)947-0600. dusablemuseum.org (Hannah Nyhart)
JANUARY 8, 2014 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 31