A little over two weeks ago, a group of tenants and activists gathered outside the Germano Millgate Housing Complex, at the corner of 89th and Burley, to protest the living conditions inside. A union organizer brought along Scabby, the inflatable seven-foot rat with beady red eyes used to shame workers who cross the picket line during a strike. That day, Scabby was doing double-duty as stand-in for Anthony Fusco, owner of Germano Millgate and object of the tenants’ ire. They said Fusco had failed to maintain basic standards of living. Black mold was growing in the bathrooms. Tenants would buy new clothes to replace the ones rats and mice chewed through and strip the beds every morning to stop the same thing from happening to their sheets.
The russet buildings of Germano Millgate look nice enough, though—that’s because, tenant organizers say, the last round of federal funding went to renovating the brick and mortar. There’s more money, but the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) hasn’t released it. One of the tenants there was from Barbara Jean Wright, another of Fusco’s buildings right next to UIC. They’ve also been fighting for money from HUD, which would go toward much-needed rehabs.
The tenants there were looking for the same thing as everybody else: a place to live peaceably, without their kids developing asthma or the maintenance guy taking a couple of weeks to come fix a routine problem. That they haven’t found it is normal, at least on the South Side. There are homes in Chatham where the basements routinely overflow with wastewater, and blocks in Chicago Lawn where speculators keep an avaricious grip on empty houses and vacant lots, happy to wait for the market to make their investment worthwhile. The Chicago Housing Authority, long after tearing down the high-rises, will limp past the finish line of its Plan for Transformation, fudging the numbers until they become, as our article on the agency notes, “almost meaningless.” In part, this special issue focused on housing is an incomplete record of the continued abandonment of a side of Chicago the size of Philadelphia.
Against it all, residents continue to display an unbending obstinacy: they still want a place to live peaceably. This issue is also about that: the Woodlawn residents forming land trusts to prevent displacement, or the Pilsen parishioners fighting to keep their church and community intact. As Cheryl Johnson, the environmental organizer, says about her own “village” of Altgeld Gardens, “What I love about this community, everybody had a plan.” You have to, when nobody else will draw ones up that involve you. And then you have to go out and share it, as shrewdly as you can. As the tenants were wrapping up outside Germano Millgate, a boy walked home from Thorp Elementary with his two kid sisters in tow. One of the tenants gave him their flyer—chartreuse, with cramped type—and told him to take it home to his mother. Next time, she could join them.
Home Histories: American System-Built Homes → Beverly residents enjoy the legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright’s affordable housing designs.
Life in the Doughnut → Cheryl Johnson talks about growing up in Altgeld Gardens and the future of environmental justice.
Filed Away → For the second year in a row, realtor advocates hold up legislation that could seal eviction filings.
More Than a Church → The potential sale of Pilsen’s St. Aldabert threatens the loss not just of a historic church but of a centuries-old anchor for the community.
What is the CHA Doing? → Nearly two decades on, the legacy of the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation haunts Chicago.
Back to the Land Trust → A new generation of community land trusts looks back to the movement’s radical roots.
A Case for the Accessory Dwelling Unit → ACUs—banned in the city since 1957—could soon be legal again. Here’s why that’s a good idea.
Urban Flooding by the Numbers → Chicago has an urban flooding problem, and Chatham sits at its heart.