Challenge of the mix
CHA decision to slash security grant reveals issues
05/20/2009 10:00 PM
Westhaven Park Tower encapsulates much of what the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation hoped to achieve — a mix of people from many walks of life, professions and backgrounds.
Living side by side in the gleaming brick building at Hermitage and Washington, an area that for decades saw little new private investment, are condo owners who bought at market rates and residents from public housing developments around the city. There are 34 units for CHA leaseholders and 79 for condo owners. Westhaven Park Tower opened in the spring of 2006 as part of redevelopment of the Henry Horner Homes.
But the reality of creating a mixed-income community in the building, a basic plank of CHA transformation plan, has been rocky. Each group has its own management association. And the two associations don’t regularly meet about building challenges.
Condo owners say public housing leaseholders have disproportionately affected the building’s security and quality-of-life for the worse. That leaves CHA leaseholders feeling attacked and defensive. And some CHA leaseholders levy their own barrage of charges against the condo owners.
These issues came to the fore after the housing authority informed the Westhaven Park Tower condo association in late April that it wanted to rescind $15,000 it grants the group to pay for building security. It’s the second year in a row that CHA has proposed withdrawing the money — the agency reversed itself last year after an outcry from the building’s condo owners.
CHA is skeptical of the condo owners’ claims. In an April 28 letter to Rich Sciortino, president of Brinshore-Michaels, the developer of Westhaven Tower, CHA senior vice president Timonthy Veenstra wrote, “All records we have received indicate that our public housing residents have not caused any significant problems at the property nor created a need for additional security above the level in the association budget as pro-rated to all owners.”
The move angers Katherine Quickery, president of the Westhaven Tower condominium association. Quickery told CHA commissioners at their board meeting Tuesday that the funding was necessary because units housing CHA leaseholders or their guests were responsible for 18 security incidents in the building between January and April — all of those recorded. She passed out copies of the building’s incident logs.
Describing herself as “an angry homeowner,” Quickery didn’t mince words.
“After living in the building for three years, I consider the project a failure for homeowners,” she said. “Our assessment bills have gone up 30 percent largely to pay for security because of disturbances caused by CHA renters and their guests.”
Quickery said in an interview that the bulk of the building’s issues stem from three to six CHA units. She said loitering, sleeping in hallways and common areas as well as domestic disputes, noise and drug use could be attributed to CHA renters. It’s not what the condo owners were promised by the housing authority when they bought units, according to Quickery.
But some of the public housing residents at Westhaven Park say condo owners create problems, too, from leaving dog poop in the hallway to partying in their units.
“They have noise in the building. They have parties — they drink, they do drugs. If we turn on our radios, they call security,” said Ruth Kemp, who moved into the building in May 2006 from LeClaire Courts.
To Angelene Johnson, who lived in the Henry Horner Homes, the condo owners unfairly lump all public housing residents together.
It’s a charge a number of condo owners are sensitive to. Their letters to CHA protesting possible loss of the security dollars explicitly say they don’t want to stereotype the building’s public housing residents.
But Johnson doesn’t think it is fair that condo owners are complaining without, she said, talking to the people creating the problems.
“In any type of development of this size, with incomes that fluctuate from one end of the spectrum to the other, you’re going to have problems,” Johnson said.
“Just be open. If you have something to say, come to us as individual or group,” she went on to say.
To Quickery, however, the housing authority and its property managers — not the condo owners, nor their association — should resolve issues with problem CHA leaseholders, including moving them out. Quickery was skeptical that meeting with residents would solve the underlying issues.
“It’s a basic money problem. I don’t know how much they’re aware how much we pay in assessments, and why it’s a burden, why were making a big deal about this,” she said of the residents calling for more informal meetings. “It’s coming out of our pocket.”
Despite the rancor, there are points of agreement between the two groups. Public housing renters interviewed for this story said they also wanted more security.
Flora Moore, for example, doesn’t see problems in the building herself — she said she lives on a quiet floor — though she’s heard other people talk about them. But she doesn’t want CHA to cut back on the $15,000 grant.
“They should not cut back on security,” said Moore, who lived in Rockwell Gardens.
And while other residents perceive an us-and-them situation in the tower, Moore thought relations between the residents and condo owners were thawing. She connected with some of her higher-income neighbors at a breakfast meet-and-greet.
“I don’t think it’s as bad as when I first moved here. I’ve been here a year and a half,” Moore said. “My neighbors, we pass each other and we speak.”
CHA, meanwhile, says it will reconsider cutting the funds for building security.
“We’re committed to making sure all of our mixed-income communities work,” said Lewis Jordan, the agency’s CEO. “We’re going to sit down with all of the parties at Westhaven Tower, and just reassess the decision.”