Juneteenth protest urges city to build first

CHICAGO – For the fifth year in a row, activists and residents here held an all-day Juneteenth protest against the destruction of public housing without viable housing substitutions. Starting the day with a noontime press conference, advocates described how the city’s plan to destroy all public housing without securing alternate housing for Chicago’s over 60,000 public housing residents first, leaves many families out in the cold.

At the rally protesters told how the demolition process has been fast tracked because of the overwhelming anger about the plan. “CHA [Chicago Housing Authority] has scheduled 4,600 units to be demolished in 2002, with only 95 new ones to be built,” said Carole Steele, a CHA resident and president of the Coalition to Protect Pubic Housing. “We say, ‘Build First,’” Steele continued, saying that these “communities will be weathering the storm.”

Advocates for saving public housing communities argue that Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley II, son of corrupt city Boss Mayor Daley I, is doing the bidding of developers who are in a rush to gain control of the valuable public land. “It is unjust to move poor people out at a time when there is such a dearth of affordable housing nationally and locally,” said Rev. Calvin Morris, executive director of the Community Renewal Society. In fact, the availability of affordable housing is minimal in Chicago, according to the city’s own statistics.

The city counters with a program called Section 8, a rent subsidization program for market-rate housing. However, the few residents who qualify for Section 8 have trouble finding owners that will honor the program, despite the legal but unendorsed mandate. In addition the program does not protect renters from the possibility that rents will rise in the coming year, nor does the program put any rent-control restrictions on property owners.

The protest continued with a tent city campout in an area that formerly housed hundreds of families. Two blocks away, Madison Park Apartments had already been demolished, while most of the beautifully crafted and well-maintained Ida B. Wells Apartments were boarded up and awaiting demolition.

At the campout, local children played on the city’s demolition equipment, which had already moved in, while local performers sang songs and played instruments. The crowd especially enjoyed the protest anthem, which called for dumping Daley, while organizers passed around petitions and a survey, and registered people to vote.

Barbara Moore, a CHA resident and housing activist, asked Daley, “Do poor people really have ‘America the beautiful’?”

But her question, like so many others, falls on the deaf ears of the Daley family. As those Daley represents are filling the city’s already stretched homeless shelters, parks and benches, the budgets of Chicago’s support structure for the poor, unemployed and homeless are receiving cuts and closure.

The author can be reached at brandikishner@yahoo.com