April Moore is a resident of the Stateway Gardens CHA development. She lives on the second floor of 3517 S. Federal Street. On December 22, 2000, while she was cooking dinner, a fire erupted in her kitchen. Firemen came and extinguished the fire. Her kitchen was destroyed. The stove, sink, and refrigerator were ruined; the food in her pantry was consumed by flames.
Six months later, Ms. Moore’s kitchen looks like it did moments after the fire. The charred refrigerator, stove, and sink are nonfunctional. The floor is littered with broken dishes and ashy remnants of kitchen utensils. The walls are blackened by smoke. Peeling paint hangs from the ceiling. There are no lights. And the stench of the fire remains in the air.
According to Ms. Moore, the property management company at Stateway Gardens took no action for several days because of the Christmas holiday. After Christmas, the building manager inspected the damage. Maintenance staff boarded up the kitchen window and replaced other windows shattered by the firemen. No effort was made to clean up the kitchen or to provide Ms. Moore with new appliances and a working sink.
3517-19 S. Federal is one of three buildings scheduled to be demolished by the end of the year in the first phase of redevelopment at Stateway. Ms. Moore and other residents have received 120-day notices, informing them that their building will be closed and that they will be given the option of using a Section 8 voucher to find housing in the private real estate market or moving to a rehabbed unit on site. Construction crews have been working for months to make ready apartments in other buildings for those who want to stay at Stateway.
In the aftermath of the fire, Ms. Moore recalls, the building manager told her that the management company was not going to do anything about the conditions in her apartment because the building was scheduled to be demolished. The manager offered to move her into a vacant apartment on the 14th floor of the same building–a unit without cabinets or bedroom doors.
“Why,” Ms. Moore asks, “would I want to move into another raggedy apartment” in 3517-19 S. Federal–a building soon to be closed and demolished–when apartments are being rehabbed elsewhere at Stateway for residents of 3517-19 to move into?
When Ms. Moore moves, it will not be the first time she has had to make way for the wrecking ball. She grew up in the Ida B. Wells CHA development. In 1992 she was forced to relocate within Wells because the building in which she lived, 551 E. 36th Place, was to be demolished. Three years later in 1995 she was forced to move to Stateway because the building to which she had been relocated, 510 E. 36th Place, was to be torn down. In the course of the redevelopment process at Stateway, she will have to move at least twice; perhaps more. In view of the condition of her apartment, she wants to know why management won’t move her into one of the rehabbed units now.
The issue of the habitability of occupied buildings scheduled to be demolished was raised by resident leaders earlier this year. In response to their concerns, CHA CEO Terry Peterson initiated inspections of every unit in high-rise family buildings across the city by teams composed of representatives of CHA and various city agencies. An inspection team came to Ms. Moore’s apartment, but thus far no action has been taken.
So, six months after the fire, Ms. Moore remains in her devastated apartment, cooking her meals in the kitchens of neighbors, and trying to understand why she must bear the costs of the failure of the CHA and its agents to maintain livable conditions in a building that, while destined one day to be demolished, is today inhabited.