[Voices of Cabrini raw #203]

This tape features footage gathered for the documentary "Voices of Cabrini." Filmed between 1995-1999, the footage documents the Cabrini Green redevelopment project proposed and carried through by the city of Chicago. This video features interviews with urban planners Yittayih Zelalem and Patricia A. Wright, and an interview with the chair of the Coalition to Protect Public Housing, Wardell Yotaghan.

0:06Copy video clip URL Color bars.

0:58Copy video clip URL Interview with a Wardell Yotaghan, chair of the Coalition to Protect Public Housing. Filmmaker Ronit Bezalel asks him what the Chicago Housing Authority is and what role it plays with housing development. Yotaghan: “The CHA’s mission is to provide safe, decent, and sanitary housing to low and very-low income people. Certainly it hasn’t done that since its beginning…somebody realized that most of the land that public housing is sitting on is very ripe…they purposefully let them deteriorate…so they can build market-rate housing for rich people, basically.”

2:47Copy video clip URL Yotaghan: “It appears that most of the people are going to become homeless based upon the research that we’ve done. Number one: The metropolitan area does not have enough units to absorb this amount of people. The other: Even with the Section 8 certificates, many landlords don’t accept them…what we see happening is a lot of people will become homeless…” He talks about how the bureaucracy is designed to fail. In tape cut.

4:06Copy video clip URL Bezalel asks Yotaghan how the CHA mismanaged the Cabrini-Green area. Yotaghan: “They haven’t done the repairs that they should have done to keep the physical structures up. They haven’t applied rules and regulations in order to maintain the tenants at a certain level…”

6:04Copy video clip URL Bezalel asks Yotaghan why they built the projects in the first place: “They were trying to improve the living conditions of people…their intention was good when they built these buildings, I don’t doubt that, it was just later that they realized some mistakes were made.” He refers to the effect “white flight” had on the economics of the city and, in turn, how former suburban residents want now to return to the city.

9:40Copy video clip URL Bezalel asks him what motivated the redevelopment projects. Yotaghan: “The motivation is money…when you look at the mayor you just lead out from him…there’s some developer behind the whole idea of developing, and once you’ve identified that you’ll find that all of them are heavy contributors to the mayor. It’s not an issue of the people…” He goes on to say that everyone is implicated in public housing’s problems.

11:56Copy video clip URL As a solution to these problems, Yotaghan says: “First of all I would give this community the same respect as any other community. Come in and start building in the community, a lot of people are going to stay in the community. I’d let them stay. And a lot of them want to leave; I’d let them do so. I’d create a mixed-income in the community by giving them jobs. That helps the city…the solution is bringing everyone together to solve the problem.”

13:46Copy video clip URL Yotaghan describes the events of a calamitous town hall meeting: “What happened at that meeting happens all over the city. The city and a few people come up with a plan, they come out to the community, and then say, ‘This is the plan.’ But they in fact tell the government they’re allowing these people participation…this particular time they invited the surrounding residents, but not the residents of community. The Cabrini residents…demanded to be let in…that sort of caught them by surprise. It got out of order and then the residents walked out. We wanted the general public to know we weren’t invited and that this is the way they’re doing business. And they’re doing it in communities where they think the residents don’t have a voice…my common sense tells me they don’t intend to ever complete this project…” He goes on to talk about how CHA middle-men facilitate dispersion, but don’t understand how they should ally with residents.

17:14Copy video clip URL Yotaghan: “This whole demolition impacts a lot of people. Most people see it as just tearing down some raggedy buildings and saving some people who really need to be saved from living in horrible conditions, but in fact it affects the businesses that surround these communities; when they tear down those communities those businesses are gone, even if they were going to be permitted to stay, but with all those buildings gone they can’t just sit there…The schools will be gone. All those teachers, those janitors, they’ll be gone. Those people who work for a private management group…they’re out of a job…this will have a devastating impact on a lot of people…”

19:58Copy video clip URL Yotaghan: “The way they perceive things, their values, the whole prospect of thinking, the mentality of the residents is, ‘We don’t care. CHA don’t care…they don’t care, why should we care?’ There’s a confusing mentality among those two groups of people. They have to change their values…”

21:55Copy video clip URL Yotaghan: “The CHA has treated its residents almost like modern day slaves. They’ve kept them isolated from the community…this was done by mostly employees–middle management–I don’t think any of the executive directors really condoned this, but it actually happens. It’s the history of the CHA. It has to be turned around if there’s going to be a relationship that can work…” He attributes the problems of the projects to Mayor Richard J. Daley, who was instrumental in creating them. The projects were very good for residents for about ten to fifteen years (with hot water, bath tubs, and steam heat), but they were not maintained.

26:02Copy video clip URL Cut to an interview with Yittayih Zelalem, senior planner for the Vorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement.

26:25Copy video clip URL Bezalel asks him how he’d describe Cabrini-Green to someone not from Chicago. Zelalem: “Cabrini-Green is a bunch of high rise buildings that were built in the 1950s and 1960s. There are also row houses that were done in the early 1940s by the federal government. They are administered by the Chicago Housing Authority and there are a total of about 3,500 units of housing that house very low income families. Cabrini-Green is located very close to the lake. It is really on prime land…but currently occupied by very low income people on public housing.”

27:30Copy video clip URL Bezalel asks Zelalem to summarize key findings from his public policy report on the Near North Redevelopment Plan and Section 8 Housing certificates. He describes the proposed plan, which includes demolition of 1,300 housing units in 8 high rises. A small percentage of replacement housing, 300-500 units total, would be reserved for low income residents.

30:17Copy video clip URL To promote the plan and give incentive to developers, Zelalem explains, the city of Chicago generated approximately $300,000,000 through tax increment financing (TIF).

31:19Copy video clip URL Bezalel asks Zelalem who or what is the driving force behind redevelopment. He maintains that everyone–developers, CHA, and the city–have a vested interest in redevelopment: “The city of Chicago is very interested in expanding its tax base. The Cabrini-Green area housing project is placed in the center of the city, taking so much land, so that the city of Chicago appears to have some interest to revitalize the neighborhood. The Chicago Housing Authority, under pressure from the federal government, from Congress, to reduce its housing stock, because funding is drying up for public housing, is interested in reducing the number of units…”

35:36Copy video clip URL Bezalel asks Zelalem whether there is any one developer who stands to profit the most from redevelopment. Zelalem: “From our research we were able to find that MCL companies has quite a bit of holdings…” He lists the various properties and developments administered by MCL.

37:17Copy video clip URL Zelalem talks about precedents and past mistakes from the early history of public housing. He reiterates that current residents have a right to acceptable housing alternatives and that there needs to be viable mixed income communities. Zelalem says: “When one engages in destroying someone’s community, one needs to engage them in dialogue…”

40:59Copy video clip URL Cut to mid-interview with Dr. Patricia A. Wright. Wright: “So far as I can keep track there are roughly 230 families that have been displaced so far through the redevelopment process. About 50% of those families have taken the Section 8 certificates or vouchers and gone into the private market. The rest of them have been relocated within Cabrini-Green, in empty units…three families have taken scattered site…and they’ve also been moved to other public housing units throughout the city.”

42:10Copy video clip URL Wright: “As you know, when they do redevelopment of public housing in the city we have an obligation, the federal government has an obligation through the Relocation Act to find a suitable unit for the family…However, when you look at the statistics, there are 50 families in Cabrini-Green who have been either evicted or just disappeared…” She talks about the fear these families felt in the face of eviction.

43:24Copy video clip URL Wright: “When a public housing resident is approached by the Chicago Housing Authority and told that their building is going to be redeveloped and they have to move, they have a choice of taking a Section 8 certificate or voucher and finding an apartment in the private market. Or, they can take a scattered site unit…Or, third, to be relocated within CHA public housing either at Cabrini-Green or at another development where a unit is available…where they get informed correctly about that I’m not sure.”

45:00Copy video clip URL Wright: “The Section 8 program is the program [where you get] a certificate to take into the private market. What we’re seeing now is a major shift where the government wants to get out of managing and owning housing, and all of the redevelopment we’ve seen in Cabrini-Green, Henry Horner, or Robert Taylor Homes is the major policy shift of the federal government wanting to pull back and not be a provider of public housing…Is this being done in a rational, planned way so the residents don’t get hurt in this process?…” Wright believes there should be affordable public housing if a federal minimum wage does not support living above the poverty line.

47:49Copy video clip URL Wright: “The private market isn’t ready to absorb this many families this quickly, even if you believed in the idea that their needs can be met in the private hosing market…we need a plan to make that transition, and my sense is that the federal government is moving too fast, and the people getting hurt are the people who are most vulnerable.”

48:49Copy video clip URL Wright, about the new federal policy initiative: “I think there’s a whole shift away from social responsibility. I think this is a larger debate in our country about the role of our government to mediate the inequalities in our society…” She also addresses privatization and the minimum wage.

50:32Copy video clip URL Wright: “There are some people in our society who do not have the money to compete in the private market…that’s why I still see the role of the government to provide public housing…”

52:49Copy video clip URL Wright reiterates her research on how many families had been displaced out of Cabrini-Green and where they moved.

54:08Copy video clip URL Wright: “When the mayor says that everyone who wants to who now lives in Cabrini can return, I think that’s a message city hall is giving to the press. When I interviewed individual residents who are going through the relocation process, they’re getting a very different message…my sense from most of the residents that I talked to, they’re being told that they won’t be able to move back…”

56:24Copy video clip URL She discusses the “Urban Renewal” movement. She continues: “There really is no evidence that high rise development doesn’t work for poor people…” She talks about housing as a human right.

59:55Copy video clip URL Wright discusses the Chicago 21 Plan: “In 1973 it signaled the change in the economy of the city of Chicago, and the ripple effects of the change from an industrial based economy to a service sector economy…they really just wanted to do it for the loop…it was meant to keep white middle class people in the city.”

1:04:17Copy video clip URL End of tape.



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