Chicago’s vacant public housing occupied by activists

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About 35 people gathered outside a four-bedroom house in Humboldt Park on Friday and enjoyed some sunshine, music and food. They were stationed there to serve as a barrier between the people living in the house and the people trying to evict them.

The home was one of four homes from which about 12 people were “illegally locked out” on July 26, said social researcher Emma Tamplin, 26, who helps people living at 1629 N. Washtenaw Ave. since the new home call year.

KD Williams, 39, and Wilson Mather-Glass, 25, are two of those inmates. They said they moved on Jan. 1 after seeing a homeless encampment pop up in the neighborhood while a large number of homes said to be owned by Chicago housing authorities remained vacant.

According to city records, the housing authority has owned the property at N. Washtenaw Ave since 1996. 1629.

Williams said there was no eviction notice before July 26, when Hispanic Housing Development Corp employees. reportedly showed up to the house and removed some of their belongings and asked Williams, Mather-Glass and a third roommate who it was Friday out of town to remove the rest.

“They broke down our door, broke some of our belongings, threatened us, used a lot of homophobic and transphobic slurs,” Williams said.

A Hispanic Housing Development Corporation representative said Friday that all requests for comment would be referred to the CHA.

The Housing Authority said in a statement: “CHA takes these issues seriously and is following all appropriate legal processes to remove squatters from our property. We have viewed video of the July 26 encounter and are concerned at how this situation was handled by our outside property manager and this incident is being investigated.”

As of Friday, Williams and Mather-Glass returned to the house with their belongings. Williams said occupying vacant homes is a way to fight back against the “housing authority’s practice of keeping homes vacant for years.”

Tamplin, Williams and Mather-Glass call their initiative the Humboldt Park Housing Project.

The house on N. Washtenaw Ave. 1629 had multiple code violations as of 2019, according to the city’s building permit and inspection records, including failing to register the building as vacant within 30 days of being vacant or within 30 days of taking ownership of an existing vacant building. The home was also cited for failing to maintain the exterior walls and keep the structure free of holes, cracks and other conditions that could allow rain or moisture to seep into the walls.

Williams, who works as a teacher and also studies civil engineering, said it was clear the house wasn’t built to last. “None of these vacant houses have been maintained because they’re all falling apart,” Williams said. “Then that’s your excuse for leaving it blank.”

The housing authority said it maintains more than 16,000 units of public housing and some units are vacant at any one time for a variety of reasons, including planned refurbishments, works such as painting and minor repairs, and units undergoing more extensive capital improvement work.

When the units become ready for occupancy, they will be offered to applicants on the housing authority’s public housing waitlists, which are open and subject to HUD regulations, the housing authority said.

“CHA provides safe and stable housing for 63,000 families across the city,” the statement said. “We work closely with other city and non-profit organizations to provide housing opportunities to help fight homelessness, including the recent issuance of nearly 1,200 emergency shelter vouchers.”

Tamplin said the four homes from which about 12 people were locked out last week have been “empty for several years.”

afternoon meeting

afternoon meeting

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On Friday, she wasn’t sure if any of the other three homes had been reoccupied since July 26, two of which were previously occupied by “vulnerable people experiencing homelessness” that the Humboldt Park Housing Project is “trying to protect.” “. She said.

“The biggest thing is handing over these vacant houses,” Tamplin said. “They must be made available to the people who need them. It’s absurd. People need housing and if they want to talk about the need for affordable housing, they should do what is necessary and spend what they earn each year to take care of these places and make them available immediately.”

Mather-Glass, 25, is a special education assistant, musician, activist and restaurant worker, and he said the community has supported the group’s efforts.

There have been no signs of trouble from the group, Mather-Glass said, and at the end of the day most people are primarily concerned with protecting their neighborhoods.

“We hear about it every day, but where is this violence coming from,” Mather-Glass said. “What are the things that drive people onto the streets and drive them to despair? Having no home, taking away the foundation from under you, that’s very clear. As soon as that happens, you slide down.”

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