Our voices are ignored, public housing residents complain

Irate public housing residents say they are being stifled at the very meetings at which they are supposed to be able to vent their complaints.

Tempers flared over the issue at yesterday's Central Advisory Council Tenant Services meeting. The council is the general body of public housing leaders from developments across the city, and it meets once monthly to get information from residents and allow them to express concerns.

But when the agenda rolls around to the resident-led portion, shouts come up from members of the council, calling for adjournment, says Gladys McKinley, a 47-year resident of Washington Park Homes.

McKinley refused to back down yesterday. Despite calls for the meeting to adjourn, she was fervent about having her say.

"That's the purpose of this meeting - to let residents voice their concerns," shouted McKinley. "They have a right to voice their concerns to the leadership."

McKinley says she thinks who is speaking makes a big difference, and whether the thoughts they have to express are positive or negative. 

"Certain ones get up to the mic and are allowed to talk," says McKinley. "Certain others are not."

Other residents and public housing leaders agreed with McKinley.

Francine Washington, former president of Stateway Gardens, says residents don't always get the time to say their piece.

"They do cut people off real quick," says Washington.

As to why residents would be stopped from speaking, both Washington and former president at Robert Taylor Homes, Shahshak Levi, think time is a factor. Many members are in a hurry to leave and don't want to stay to hear other complaints. But Levi says that shouldn't be a factor.

"This is the only place for residents to come and voice their concerns," says Levi. "The meeting is for the residents."

But Bob Whitfield, attorney for the Central Advisory Council, says residents can also choose to come to the Chicago Housing Authority's tenant service meetings, where they have a chance to get their problems addressed. He was not in attendence at yesterday's council meeting. The council is a nonprofit organization separate from the Chicago Housing Authority, a government agency.

"People get two bites of the apple. They can also come downtown next week," says Whitfield.

Council president Deverra Beverly was not available to answer questions about the meeting procedure or McKinley's comments.

When McKinley finally took the microphone after objecting to motions to adjourn, she expressed her dissatisfaction with the company contracted to run the council's election, Alexis Bivens, Ltd.

"This company that was hired was the worst company that ever ran the election," says McKinley.

Whitfield says he is looking into concerns about Alexis Bivens and working with the company to try and finalize last week's election results which will determine who sits on the Central Advisory Council.

Other residents also got up to let the group know about substance abuse problems and counseling in their communities and the demolition of the Robert Taylor Homes.

McKinley says she hopes when a new council president is elected, the style of the meeting will change.

"It's important for us to be heard," says McKinley. "We should be able to be heard."

Staff Writer Megan Cottrell covers public housing for the Daily News. She can be reached at 773-362-5002, ext. 12, or megan [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.