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Keeping the Greedy At Bay: Chicago Tenants Rise Up

by staff |
November 9, 2006
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Chicago, IL - Across the country the rich are grabbing up land, pushing poor people and people of color to the suburbs and on to the streets. In Chicago this has meant the demolition of whole communities, the tearing down of public housing, violations of renters’ rights, condo conversions and working-class displacement.

But people who thought the cycle of deterioration and gentrification was inevitable are being woken up by the thump of marching feet and the choruses of voices that refuse to be silenced. Tenants with the Student/Tenant Organizing Project (STOP) are taking action against the deterioration and displacement caused by city officials like Mayor Daley, private developers like East Lake Management and large institutions like the University of Chicago.

“Mayor Daley needs to know, condo conversion’s got to go!”

Tenants in a building in the Hyde Park neighborhood facing a condo conversion decided it was time to take it to the streets and invite along their neighbors. The Metropolitan Tenants Organization invited STOP-organized tenants in the neighboring Woodlawn community to join them in a march against condo conversions, Sept. 30.

After the march, STOP organizer and Kimbark Tenants Association member Ebonee Stevenson spoke at the rally, telling the crowd, “Me and my neighbors organized and stopped our five subsidized buildings in Woodlawn from going condo last year and forced HUD to step in and make the owners fix our apartments. Tenants everywhere need to stand together to defend our homes.”

“Ignore us once, ignore us twice, East Lake’s askin’ for a fight!”

On International Housing Rights day, Oct. 2, STOP tenants from Washington Square Tenants Association were joined by other STOP members and allies from around the city for a protest at East Lake Management’s Michigan Avenue headquarters. Fed up with leaky windows, unfinished hallways and broken elevators, tenants decided that three months of unanswered demands meant it was time to make themselves heard.

“I think the march on East Lake showed them that we’re not playing and that we mean business,” said tenant Brenda Blanks. Tenants are still angry because East Lake has only addressed a few of their concerns. “Yeah they are meeting our demand for better security by replacing the security company, but here is November and they’ve only replaced one window. They told me they will replace my carpet, but only once their contractor is done somewhere else. This struggle isn’t over yet,” says Ms. Blanks.

Tenants at City Hall: “Don’t push out the poor!”

On Oct 4, STOP tenants joined Beauty Turner, leader of the Poor People’s Millennium Movement to take the fight to City Hall. “We’re here to tell you, stop sending your shameful waste to the suburbs, stop pushing the poor out of the city,” said Ms. Turner. Public housing as well as subsidized housing tenants denounced the policies that are pushing the poor out of the city. They told the press about injustices such as tearing down of public housing, restricting where Section 8 voucher holders can move and cutting out subsidized tenants’ voices from decisions that are affecting their lives at project-based complexes like Grove Parc Plaza Apartments.

“We the people need to be more conscious and aware of what’s going on politically around us and who’s in authority and who really is saying what is to be did and not just take for granted that someone who owns or manages property will do right by their tenants. This is our homes, but just a job for them. We aren’t just coming together for a just cause concerning housing we are coming together for the sake of humanity,” says Ms. Annette Williams, a tenant at Grove Parc.

HUD tenants at Grove Parc Apartments: “We’re taking our power back”

A week later several tenants representing the Grove Parc Tenants Association went to the Palmer House Hilton Hotel where policymakers and banks were holding the National Housing Conference. They were kicked out just for trying to deliver a letter and petitions to Alphonso Jackson, the Bush-appointed national secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The petitions and letter made their way directly onto Mr. Jackson’s lap nonetheless.

HUD is threatening to foreclose on the 500-unit Grove Parc Apartments because of conditions but tenants are organizing to make sure their voices are heard from start to finish and that the subsidies are preserved. Tenants are demanding a seat at the table with the owners (an organization called WPIC), the University of Chicago (which has two representatives on the WPIC’s board) and HUD.

Tenant Council president for the 740 and 742 buildings at Grove Parc, Lonnie Richardson, says, “The positive thing is that we have gotten this leadership team together now, and now that the family units have started organizing and then we’re coming together as one to unite. We are doing things for ourselves, raising our own voices. The reason we are in the shape we are in now is because at complexes like Grove Parc management does anything they want to if people let it happen. Protesting and coming together like this to demand a seat at the table, they don’t think we can do this, they think the low-income are tearing it down, they don’t ever see the positive side of the community. But we are taking our power back.”

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