Still a few residents who are choosing to stay longer at Cabrini-Green

The notorious housing project known as Cabrini-Green is nearly gone. Due to plans begun in the 1990s, nearly all of the buildings have been torn down. But one building, at 1230 N. Burling, is still occupied and today, a few residents said they wanted to stay longer even though the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) wanted to move them out:

CHA spokeswoman Kellie O’Connell-Miller acknowledged that a court-approved, 180-day notice for the residents to leave the Near North Side housing complex does not expire until Jan 4, 2011. But because there were fewer than 10 families remaining in the building, the CHA and the Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Council agreed that they would try to speed up the relocation, she said.

O’Connell-Miller would not say exactly how many families still lived in the building. Richard Wheelock, housing supervisor at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, which represents the Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Council, said five to seven families were in the building at the start of the day, but two families refused to leave because they objected to the accommodations they were offered…

Legally, there was no order forcing people out today, but the CHA and the LAC had worked to speed up the relocation for safety reasons, O’Connell-Miller said.

I can imagine that some people would ask, “Why in the world would people want to stay in a near empty building, let alone the last occupied one in the Cabrini-Green project?”

The article hints at one reason: the new accommodations for those moved out of Cabrini-Green might not be any better. This has been one of the sticking points since demolitions efforts were announced in the 1990s: where exactly would these public housing residents be moved? A small number could qualify for new mixed-income housing built on or near the Cabrini site, some might be moved to other public housing projects in Chicago or given Section 8 vouchers to use with private housing, and then some simply disappeared from the public housing rolls. But overall, there was not enough public housing to take in all of the people who would be displaced from Cabrini-Green. Moving out of public housing yet ending up in substandard housing in a hyper-segregated city neighborhood is not necessarily better.

Another issue may play a small role: few people like to be told where or when to move. Even when the conditions aren’t that great, home is home and the home you know might seem better than a new place. Middle-class or upper-class people also don’t like to be told to move when the government exercises eminent domain and those people even get a fair price for their property. These two issues are related: if you feel like you don’t have a choice and your options aren’t very good, moving may be undesirable.

Thinking of all this, we need more media attention on what has happened to these notorious public housing projects like Cabrini-Green or the Robert Taylor Homes. What has happened to the former residents and have their lives been improved? What do these sights look like now and who has benefited from making use of the land?

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