Four years after last of Horner Homes came down, how has life changed in West Haven?
02/22/2012 10:00 PM
Near the corner of Madison and Western avenues, two black men in their 20s are having a casual conversation in front of recently renovated condo building. The white, middle-aged man approaches. The conversation stops. The white man walks past them and strides into the building. He casts a quick look back as he closes the door behind him. Once the older man is inside, the conversation resumes as if nothing happened.
It’s a scene that’s not uncommon on the former site of the Henry Horner Homes on the Near West Side, where the four years ago the Chicago Housing Authority demolished the last pieces of the notorious public housing development. In their place, they built two mixed-income developments, dubbed West Haven.
As the changes took root, Chicago Journal reported extensively on the tensions between the former Henry Horner residents and owners of new market-rate condos. Since then, the tensions continue to linger. And while the neighborhood has improved in a number of ways, many of the issues that have affected the neighborhood for the past 50 years continue to linger.
As originally conceived, the Plan for Transformation was meant to end the pattern of segregation and reduce the concentrations of poverty by creating mixed-income communities that would include market-rate condominiums, apartments where the rents would be capped at affordable rates and public housing units (where the rent was determined based on income). All three types of spaces would include the same amenities.
John Condren is a life-long Henry Horner Homes resident who currently lives in a new public housing unit near the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Paulina Avenue, remains skeptical of the entire idea. When asked about the condo owners in the development, he said that there weren’t communicating.
“We are different.” Condren elaborated. “It’s about how you’re brought up. We grew up one way and they grew up another way. They see things differently. And when they come over here, they don’t understand, you know. And that’s a problem. ”
As he sees it, the process could have gone better if the condo owners knew what they were getting into.
“There needs to be a warning. Like on toys — ‘this toy is inappropriate for children under 13.’ That way, they’ll know if it’s something they want to be a part of,” he said.
But doing that would run completely counter to the CHA’s current strategy. Mixed-income developments advertise their market-rate, affordable housing and public housing components separately. The website that advertises new Westhaven Park developments makes no mention of non-market units, choosing the emphasize luxuries and area amenities.
Condren also complained that the redevelopment did not do enough to increase opportunities for public housing residents
“Nobody around here is hiring,” he said. “See the construction over there,” he motioned toward Lake Street, where city workers were tearing up the payment. “If any of us came up asking for work, they wouldn’t hire us. Even though they’re supposed to.”
The Horner Engagement Program was developed by CHA and Horner Residents Committee to provide a range of services to the public housing residents, including helping them find and retain jobs. The CHA contracted Near West Side Community Development Corporation to implement the services. CHA spokesman Matt Aguilar explained that Near West Side CDC designed a strategy that aims to address the families’ unique needs and help them achieve self-sufficiency.
“The employment team assists individual family members with employment preparation through access to educational resources and training opportunities, in addition to job placement assistance and retention services,” said Aguilar. “Near West works closely with CHA staff and property management to facilitate efficient communication and coordination regarding resident needs.”
Shannon is one of the social workers who provides resident services under the Horner Engagement Program. She declined to give her last name to protect her clients’ privacy. While she characterized her work as successful, Shannon said that she still had plenty of work ahead of her. She expressed hope that there would come a time when her services were no longer needed, but she didn’t believe it would happen any time soon.
Part of the problem is a relative lack of entry-level job opportunities in the area. Unlike the redevelopment of Cabrini-Green, Westhaven did not include a retail component, and there has been little other development since. Rage Hair Salon opened at 125 N. Damen Avenue, but that’s the only business in Westhaven Park. The surrounding blocks offer corner stores with basic necessities — cheap food, household cleaning supplies, etc.
Along Western Avenue, a small shopping corridor is popping up. It has a new Walgreens store, a few national chain restaurants and some local shops. Shoomi, a shoe store and Fashionable Addictions, a clothing store, would not look out of place in the trendier sections of West Loop. Moon’s Sandwich Shop, a neighborhood institution since 1933, enjoys a robust business, to the point where it gets more customers at peak hours than the nearby McDonald’s and Popeye’s locations. Construction is set to begin soon on a shopping center anchored by Pete’s Fresh Market at Madison and Western.
The Solstice Art Source is a stained glass studio located north of Westhaven, at 2010 W. Fulton St. Owner Emily Carlson has been operating the studio at its current location for the last three years, and her impressions have been largely positive.
“I know that crime does happen around here, but I haven’t had any problems,” she said. “Sometimes, the street people, they come [to our workshop] and ask if they can take any scrap material.”
As Carlson sees it, they help keep the community clean. While many former Henry Horner residents were able to return to Westhaven, quite a few of them didn’t. Under CHA’s official policy, all of the original public housing residents that are compliant with the agency’s housing policies have the right to move to any public housing or mixed-income development, including the development in the neighborhood they were originally from.
According to the CHA’s April 2011 Relocation Study, out of 699 Henry Horner families who had the right to return, 338 families moved to either Westhaven Park or Village of Westhaven. Fourteen more families live elsewhere in the Near West Side community area, and 55 families live in the nearby East Garfield Park community area. Five families live in the Near South Side. The rest settled in poor or working class communities on the West Side, and, to the lesser extent, the South Side.
The same report indicates that 63 families did not respond to CHA’s attempts to contact them, so the agency has no idea where they are. If any of the families contact CHA, they would have a right to return.
At the Westhaven Park management office, a stack of flyers lies next to the receptionist’s desk. The receptionist explained that the flyers were meant to provide inspiration to the residents. The flyer at the top of the pile had a quote that could well sum up the ideals of the mixed-income developments.
“I will look to others and try to understand their motivations; I will react to them accordingly. It will make me a better person and I will be more successful because of it.”