Living with it
In former ABLA Homes, crime remains a significant concern
08/15/2012 10:00 PM
On the Near West Side, the Addams/Medill Park is caught between two worlds. The mixed-income Roosevelt Square development stretches across the northern edge, and two recently rehabbed public housing developments line the east side of the park.
For most of its existence, it was surrounded by Grace Abbott Homes, one of the four public housing developments that made up the ABLA Homes. But those buildings have been demolished, leaving an enormous stretch of green space.
Click here to see a chart collected from Chicago Police Department detail.
While much has been done to improve the area, crime and safety remain a concern for new and existing residents alike. And with Roosevelt Square scheduled to resume construction, many residents are concerned that those issues will scare away potential renters.
The ABLA Homes were a group of four Near West Side public housing developments — the Jane Addams Homes, the Robert Brooks Homes, the Loomis Courts Apartments and Grace Abbott Homes. Together, they housed the second largest concentration of public housing residents in Chicago.
The Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation set out to change that. The Abbott Homes and most of the Addams Homes were demolished completely, with Roosevelt Square mixed-income housing development taking Addams Homes’ place.
But CHA had no intention to demolish the remaining two developments. The Brooks Homes and Loomis Courts were rehabilitated and repaired. The blocky Brooks Homes rowhouses got new, triangular roofs, more attractive features, wider courtyards and new playgrounds.
During the day, the Brooks Homes are mostly peaceful. Children play outside and many older residents sit on their porches and chat. But the police cameras at several intersections serve as the ever-present reminder that, once the sun goes down, everything changes for the worse.
Cherry Johnson has lived in the Brooks Homes for 11 years. She has seen the ABLA area go through many changes, but in her opinion, the neighborhood has become less safe, if anything.
“It hasn’t gotten better,” said Johnson. “There’s been killing, a lot of it in retaliation.”
Johnson said that a friend of hers was taking part in a “social club.” The friend was shot during a three-year anniversary celebration, simply because the shooter didn’t like what she was doing.
Larry Cribbs is a middle-aged former resident of the Abbott Homes. During the day, he tends to hang out at the northwestern edge of Addams Park, near what used to be a building parking lot. He blames the neighborhood problems on a specific group of people.
“The guys causing trouble — they ain’t us,” said Cribbs. “They are young guys, 18- to 20-year-olds.”
Terrissa Norris, another former Abbott Homes resident, echoed Cribbs’ assessment, though she said that not all of the “troublemakers” are from the area.
“Some of them live around here,” she said. “Some just come around here to cause problems.”
It was an assessment echoed by Dennis O’Neill, the executive director of Connecting4Communities, a local community organization. According to him, many of the issues that face the Brooks Homes and Loomis Gardens surface in Roosevelt Square, where public housing residents live side-by-side with market-rate renters and condominium owners.
“Historically, there hasn’t been much interaction between people who live in public housing and people who don’t,” said O’Neill. “[In Roosevelt Square], there has been more interaction, some of the interactions have been very positive. There are people who are concerned about community, like us. But sometimes, there have been issues. Sometimes, there has been violence. Sometimes, it’s people who don’t live here who are causing problems.”
O’Neill believes that in Roosevelt Square, at least, the situation might have been better if CHA lived up to the promises it made when the redevelopment was initially announced.
“There were a lot of promises made about social service delivery that weren’t kept,” said O’Neill. “Very little has been done to stabilize the adult population in the community, there has been little to no education planning. These are two crucial aspects to make mixed-income developments work.”
To get a better sense of what sort of crime the area has to deal with, Chicago Journal examined the Chicago Police Department District 12 crime statistics for July 2012. Most numbers were in single digits. The public housing and mixed income housing experienced a similar number of burglaries and robberies. Roosevelt Square experienced more thefts than public housing developments (32 to ABLA’s 22), while ABLA experienced more vehicle thefts (five to Roosevelt Square’s two).
One figure that stands out is the number of assaults. The ABLA area experienced twelve, while Roosevelt Square had none at all.
Compared to University Village, the numbers are high, while Little Italy’s numbers are slightly higher than Roosevelt Square’s or ABLA’s.
In a recent interview with Chicago Journal, District 12 commander Ron Pontecore expressed concerns about flare up in crime in the former ABLA Homes. He said that the officers will be “showing their faces more often” in hopes that the increased police presence would help. A new police station at Blue Island and 14th Street is expected to help, as well.
For now, the Addams Park is one of the brighter spots. In spite of rumors to the contrary, it experiences virtually no crime according to Chicago Police statistics. The sports field gets plenty of use. During weekdays, it serves as a practice field for Urban Prep-East Garfield Park charter school football team. Families from surrounding developments are out grilling during Saturdays, and, on Sundays, families from Pilsen and Little Village come to watch their children play soccer.
Bettina Richards came to Addams Park with her two young children. A Pilsen resident, she takes her kids to the park at least once a week. While she said that the neighborhood had its problems in the past, her current impressions of it are positive.
“It used to be scary,” Richards said. “But I think it’s definitely improved over the past 12 years. These days, I think the biggest problem is litter.”