A Chicago Housing Authority committee yesterday OK'd the demolition of six of the 11 buildings at the Harold Ickes public housing development.
Only three of the buildings are currently open, with about 100 families living onsite.
Under the Plan for Transformation, most of CHA's housing stock is set to be rehabbed or torn down and redeveloped, but currently, there's no plan at all for what could happen at Ickes.
Without a plan, some housing advocates were surprised to hear that CHA was going to start knocking buildings down. The move was approved by the Operations and Facilities Committee.
"If they're going to demolish it, they're not going to be rehabbing it," says Rich Wheelock, attorney at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago. "Obviously, they have some plan in place that doesn't include rehabilitation."
CHA officials say, even without a plan in place, they know Ickes won't be rehabbed. Ickes' high-rise buildings don't fit into the authority's new construction plans, which focus on low-rise buildings and walkable neighborhood space.
"They're just not functional in our current market for lifestyle," says Charles Hillman, senior vice president for asset management. "It will be a redevelopment site just based on the plan we're doing. They're just not conducive to rehab."
Hillman says the buildings need to come down because empty buildings create community hazards.
"Buildings left standing and vacant are a haven for criminal, drugs, and illicit activity," says Hillman. "It's incumbent upon the housing authority to demolish any buildings that are a blight to the community."
However, residents say existing buildings are creating problems.
"They're basically all locked and boarded up," says Nikki Johnson, an Ickes resident.
Johnson has lived in Harold Ickes all her life and now can't wait to move out. Every day she goes to work worried sick about her children getting caught in gang crossfire.
"It's not a good place to live. It's not a good place to raise your children," says Johnson.
Resident leader Gloria Williams says she's known for awhile that the buildings would come down. Her main concern is the low number of residents living in her development.
With each of the three remaining buildings less than half full, she worries that if more residents leave, CHA will close more buildings, forcing more residents, including Williams and her family, to move elsewhere.
"I really don't want to leave. Lots of people don't want to leave," says Williams.
Williams agreed with the concerns of residents at other sites waiting transformation, like Lathrop Homes on the North Side. She says CHA wants to move enough people out of Ickes so that when the time does come to redevelop, no one will be left to have any input whatsoever.
"They want to get it down so low so that they don't have anybody here," says Williams. "They don't want no working group."
Williams brought her concerns before the Central Advisory Council, the organization that represents resident leadership across all of CHA's developments, yesterday morning.
Lewis Jordan, CHA's CEO, says if numbers at Ickes get low, the agency will have to consolidate residents into fewer buildings.
"As buildings get down to lower numbers it makes good sense for the safety of the residents and for the running of the business, for us to close buildings and continue to consolidate," said Jordan.
CHA officials also stressed that they've increased security in the buildings that will remain at Ickes, putting in security desks at each building where visitor have to scan their ID before they enter.
"We've gotten great reviews from the residents about how secure the building is," says Hillman.
To go forward with demolition, the agency first has to seek permission from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That process should take about two weeks, and the buildings could be torn down as early as six weeks after the application is approved, according to Sanjiv Jain, vice president of capital construction at CHA.
Demolishing buildings when there's a shortage of affordable housing in Chicago is a risky move, says Kevin Jackson, executive director of the Chicago Rehab Network.
"In the housing world, we always have to be cautious about demolition," says Jackson. "Once we lose properties we can no longer get them back."
Staff Writer Megan Cottrell covers public housing for the Daily News. She can be reached at 773-362-5002, ext. 12.