The peacemaker: ABLA Homes leader walks line between CHA, residents

When the plan to revitalize Chicago's public housing came about, a lot of community leaders agonized over the changes.

But Deverra Beverly didn't agonize; she organized. 

"Change doesn't neccessarily have to be bad. It's just how it's done," says Beverly. 

Beverly has been president of the local advisory council at Addams Brooks Loomis Abbot Homes, more commonly known as ABLA, for 25 years.

Known simply as "Ms. Beverly," her ability to make peace and work collaboratively is known throughout the public housing community, making her one of the most powerful leaders among residents.

"They call me 'the peacemaker,'" says Beverly. "I make peace with everybody."

Beverly, though she was born and raised at the ABLA Homes, didn't oppose knocking them down.

"Why would I want a big building standing over me, people afraid to come out, drug dealers all over?" says Beverly. "What is better than to build something new for them?"

But she and other ABLA leaders were concerned about one thing: making sure residents came back home after the new buildings at Roosevelt Square were complete. 

"We didn't want our people all over everywhere," says Beverly. "We wouldn't let no buildings come down until they had something to show us."

Getting new homes without displacing residents meant hours of negotiating with the Chicago Housing Authority and city officials, in addition to more than 100 meetings with residents, letting them know what their rights and responsibilities were. Through it all, Beverly says she focused on working with other leaders, rather than against them, to see that the work was completed. 

Charles Hillman, senior vice president of the housing authority's family properties, has worked extensively with Beverly. He says she's one of the community's longest-serving resident leaders. 

"Her commitment and dedication have proven successful in her many accomplishments throughout the city and the ABLA community," says Hillman.

Beverly has done a lot of work negotiating on behalf of her community, but has also focused on doing good within it. Growing up in ABLA, parented by her father, she herself raised her own six children there, and began serving in the local council as a young mother. She rose in the ranks over the years, eventually becoming president of the development. 

Justean Gaines, the council treasurer, says Beverly has been a source of wisdom and motivation for many residents through the years.

"She'll tell you when you're right. She'll tell you when you're wrong," says Gaines. "She's done a lot for us."

Beverly's most recent project is the National Public Housing Museum, which will be housed in one of the former Addams homes on the ABLA site. Beverly is the chair and founder of the museum, something she says she wanted to establish so that the original community at ABLA wouldn't be forgotten.

Overall, Beverly says she's lived by her motto - "Teamwork, relationships and communication" - in serving the ABLA community, something she says she'll continue to do as long as the residents need her. She says she can't imagine doing it any other way.

"I just believed that we were supposed to do this together," says Beverly. "To me, that's teamwork." 

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.