CHA residents: Flooding, mold complaints unanswered

The manager of North East Scattered Sites, a large development of dispersed public housing apartments on the North Side, has been replaced amid complaints from residents about poor living conditions. 

Housing Resource Center, a program of Jane Addams Hull House, will end its term as manager April 30. Woodlawn Community Development Corporation will take over. 

Residents say they've been complaining about shoddy conditions for years, and that Housing Resource Center hasn't acted. 

Ayo Maat has been waiting for years to get the floor in her kitchen repaired. The tile, which was replaced when her apartment was rehabbed back in 2002, has been peeling and cracking for years, leaving her with a kitchen floor full of holes.

"I pay my rent, and I pay it on time," says Maat. "I think I deserve better."

Maat says she's called HRC and the Chicago Housing Authority time and time again, but her floor has never been fixed.

But even though the Scattered Sites are getting new management now, Maat says she doesn't think it will make any difference. She says the problem lies with CHA themselves, who have cut the company's budget and maintenance staff.

"This is CHA's problem. Bringing in another company is not going to solve the problem," says Maat.

Officials from Hull House say their budget has been cut over the years, causing them to cut down on the amount of staff they have to help residents.

The agency's staff budget was cut 41 percent over the last year, says Clarence Wood, president of Jane Addams Hull House. 

"Availability of resources to deliver the services was less than we had had in the past," Wood says.

He also says when HRC officials wanted to make repairs, they had to go through CHA. That became a long and arduous process, he says.

 "CHA was either slow in making available the funds, or the CHA process did not positively respond to the complaints and to the demands that the tenants were making," says Wood.

Wood says Hull House and CHA came to a mutual decision to end the contract. Not only were budget cuts a problem, says Wood, but at the same time, Scattered Sites neighbors were coming to HRC, complaining about public housing tenants.

"The tenants were not welcomed into the community," says Wood.  "That community really did not want the tenants there in the housing and used all of their complaints to create the challenges and the demands that we were not able to meet."

CHA officials did not say whether the decision to end HRC's contract was mutual. They say the move was part of a broad effort to rework CHA's property management contracts.

"At present, CHA is rebidding all private property management contracts, including the scattered site developments in the northeast area of the city," says Matt Aguilar, CHA spokesman. "It is assumed that a reduced number of managers will be announced within the next month."

He added that the CHA tries to be responsive to the concerns of residents.

"If there are resident complaints, the authority will certainly be glad to hear them and address them."

He declined to discuss specifics about maintenance problems and cuts to HRC's budget.

Many other tenants echo Maat's complaints about their buildings. Debbie Maxie, Maat's neighbor at 6951 N. Sheridan Rd., says every winter, her back stairs and back yard are a virtual ice rink because of problems with water drainage outside of the building.

"It's frustrating to us. It's dangerous to us," says Maxie. "They come and do inspections on us. Who is going to inspect them?"

Maria Sopena, resident at 1906 W. Sunnyside Ave., says their buildings open garbage attracts rats and rodents into the building. She also says the buildings skylights leak, causing bubbling and damage to the ceiling, making residents fear it might fall in.

"It's bad enough that I live in CHA, but it doesn't have to look like CHA," says Sopena. "Just because I live here doesn't mean I need to live in a filthy area."

Dorie Burrell, who lives at 1557 N. Winthrop Ave., says she's been trying to get rid of black mold growing all over her bathroom for years. Her two-year-old daughter has respiratory problems. Burrell gives her baths in the kitchen sink to keep her away from the bathroom mold.

"I worry for her, for both of us," says Burrell. "She coughs sometimes, and it worries me."

Burrell's father, Willie Burrell, is the local advisory council president for the North East Scattered Sites. He says maintenance problems are widespread.

"We've submitted hundreds if not thousands of requests over the years, and very little has been done," says Burrell.

Residents aren't pleased with the new manager, either. Woodlawn took over management of 187 of the 571 North East Scattered Sites units in January.

"They're rude, quite rude. Extremely rude," says the elder Burrell. "They won't listen. They're not going to take residents concerns to heart. It's going to be a rough road."

Dorie Burrell says Woodlawn was able to remove the mold in her bathroom, after years of inaction by the previous manager.

A Woodlawn representative did not return calls seeking comment.

Both Burrell and Maat say tenants should have been included in the decision to choose a new property management company.

"They haven't even informed us that they're making a management change, much less asked for our input," says Maat.

Burrell says usually CHA works with the local council at a development to determine such changes, but they haven't in this case.

"I would have really appreciated if they held a meeting or hearing or something, but it didn't happen," says Burrell. "I think they should have come and asked our opinion."

Aguilar, the CHA spokesman, declined to say why residents weren't given more input, and would not address why Woodlawn was chosen as a contractor.

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.