Denial of Access to Access Denied: Part V

Collage of young child and sections of a CHA contract for securing vacant units.

In Part III of this series, The View erroneously reported that the CHA had received no responses to the request for proposals issued on June 14, 2002. In fact, it received two responses: from Vacant Property Security (VPS) and Kar-Anne’s Board-up Inc.

On August 20, 2002, the Board of Commissioners authorized the CHA to enter into contracts with VPS and Kar-Anne’s Board-up Inc. for a cumulative amount of $1,500,000. The terms of the contracts are for two years with an option for a third year. Under the contracts, VPS will secure vacant units by means of metal panels, while Kar-Anne’s Board-up Inc. will do so by means of plywood boards.

Several resident leaders were frustrated to learn that Access Denied had formally withdrawn from the bid process. “I wish they’d bid,” one of them remarked. “How can we support them, if they don’t bid?”

After the board meeting, I spoke with Duwain Bailey, CHA’s director of operations. He explained that the contracts just approved were intended for the CHA to use for emergencies and special needs. The CHA, according to Mr. Bailey, expects property managers to allocate sufficient funds for securing vacant units and will leave them free to use the contractor of their choice. This approach, he said, would allow VPS and Access Denied to compete for business at the development level.

On August 21, 2002, the day after the board meeting, Peter Bately and Andrea Brooks of Access Denied went to the offices of IRM Interstate Realty Management Company, which had recently been installed as the manager of the Robert Taylor Homes, to pick up a purchase order number and list of units to be secured under a scope of work they had verbally agreed on. According to Mr. Bately, while they were there, Kevin Collins, the CHA asset manager responsible for the Robert Taylor Homes, appeared and took Sarah Buckner, the property manager, aside. After speaking with Mr. Collins, Ms. Buckner told Mr. Bately and Ms. Brooks that Interstate was not going to use Access Denied. She did not, she said, have to pay for the securing of vacant units, because the CHA has a standing contract with VPS to perform that function.

When I heard about the episode at the Robert Taylor Homes, I contacted Kathyrn Greenberg, who handles “external communications” for the CHA, and requested a written statement outlining the housing authority’s policy on the securing of vacant units. Several days later, after consulting with Mr. Bailey, Ms. Greenberg provided the following statement:

The CHA’s contract for securing vacant properties was competitively awarded on August 20, 2002 by the CHA Board of Commissioners to Vacant Property Security and Kar-Anne’s Board Up. The CHA also requires that the private managers managing CHA properties determine the needs of their properties for the board up of vacant units and buildings and include in their budgets funding for those services. Pursuant to HUD and CHA procurement requirements, the property managers are to independently procure vendors for board-up services. The CHA will use the board up contracts just approved by the Board of Commissioners only if services are needed beyond what was expected and budgeted by the private managers.

It may or may not be relevant that Kevin Collins, until recently the CHA’s asset manager at the Robert Taylor Homes, has a brother, Michael Collins, who works for VPS. The essential point is that the policy articulated by the CHA can only work if it is understood and enforced by CHA field staff.

On December 2, Access Denied returned to the Robert Taylor Homes. IRM Interstate Realty Management had given them a purchase order number for work at 4429 S. Federal, and they had fabricated the materials—31 door panels and 46 window panels—required to do the job. When they arrived at the site, they found that 30 of the 31 units they had come to secure already had VPS panels in place. According to Mr. Bately, Ms. Buckner of Interstate told Access Denied that this was a mistake, that VPS was not supposed to secure those units. She asked for time to clear up the confusion. Two weeks later, she informed Access Denied that she was going to use VPS because the CHA would pay the bill.

This is hardly the fair, open competition that Mr. Bailey promised. When he learned of the situation at Robert Taylor, Mr. Bailey assured Mr. Bately that “Interstate will honor your purchase order.”

Mr. Bailey’s active interest in VPS’s performance under its CHA contracts is welcome. Several questions demand his attention. How is it that work for which the property manager at Robert Taylor had engaged Access Denied was done by VPS? Was this a mistake on the part of VPS? Was it a deliberate effort by VPS to deny business to Access Denied? And if so, how did VPS learn precisely which units Access Denied had been hired to secure?

In either case, it is striking that VPS, whether by accident or design, mobilized to secure those particular units at Robert Taylor, while elsewhere in the neighborhood a building it is contractually obligated to keep secure, 2822 S. Calumet, stood wide open.

2822 S. Calumet

A panel at 2833 S. Calumet

The CHA high-rise located at 2822 S. Calumet must have been a convenient location for the families who lived there until recently—especially for those with school-aged children. Dunbar High School is less than half a block away to the south on Martin Luther King Drive. And directly across Calumet, just a few steps away, is the John B. Drake Elementary School.

Today 2822 S. Calumet is empty. It was one of the buildings vacated during the recently completed second phase of the CHA’s relocation plan. When the relocation process began last spring, 120 of the building’s 203 units were occupied. The last residents moved out at the end of September.

Awaiting eventual demolition, 2822 S. Calumet now stands vacant in the midst of a dense, vital South Side neighborhood. It is sandwiched between two large, well-managed, middle-class developments—South Commons to the west, Prairie Shores to the east—that are home to many city workers, police officers, and employees of the nearby Michael Reese Hospital and McCormick Place convention center. Apart from the elementary school, its immediate neighbors on the block are the 2nd Ward Streets and Sanitation office at 29th and Calumet and the 21st District Police Station at 29th and Prairie.

In view of the CHA’s long experience with the human and legal consequences of failure to secure vacant units [see “In Memory of Eric Morse” – Parts I and II], and in view of questions that have been raised about its handling of contracts for securing vacant units [see “Denial of Access to Access Denied”], one would expect the housing authority to have taken care to secure 2822 S. Calumet and other recently vacated buildings adequately during the interval between closing and demolition.

In fact, one can easily see—from a block away or driving past on King Drive or looking out a window at Prairie Shores or South Commons—that 2822 S. Calumet is wholly unsecured. On all four sides of the building there are window openings that anyone—including a child—could easily climb through.

Vacant Property Security [VPS], the recipient of millions of dollars of contracts from the CHA over the last few years, was responsible for securing the building. At some point during the last two months—since the closing of the building at the end of September—VPS secured door and window openings on the first three floors using metal panels. Today 25 of the 88 openings are open. VPS panels lay on the ground or hang askew from the building, as small children pass by on their way to and from school.

2833 S. Calumet2833 S. Calumet

These conditions are due to poor workmanship. Many of the panels do not fit the openings, leaving large gaps that make it easy to pull them off.

The VPS warehouse is located eight blocks away at 2540 S. Federal. How many times in recent days have VPS staff driven past the panels—some of them emblazoned with the VPS name and phone number—dangling from window openings at 2822 S. Calumet?

How many times have CHA staff going to and from meetings at various sites on the South Side or commuting to and from their homes driven past the obviously unsecured high-rise?

A Streets and Sanitation driver who works out of the facility next door said that 2822 S. Calumet had been in its present condition “for at least three weeks.” It would be interesting to know how many complaints the City, the CHA and VPS received during this period from people who live and work in the area.

The only call I am aware of was made on the afternoon of December 4 by Peter Bately of Access Denied, VPS’s principal competitor, to Duwain Bailey, CHA’s director of operations, to alert him to the dangerous conditions at the building. At that time, Mr. Bately requested that The View not publish any information about or images of the conditions at 2822 S. Calumet until the problem had been addressed, for fear of attracting anti-social activity to the unsecured vacant building across from a school.

As we post this story, a VPS crew is at 2822 S. Calumet beginning to restore the panels.

More than any evidence we have presented to date in our ongoing coverage of physical conditions that threaten the safety of CHA residents and their neighbors, the hazardous conditions at 2822 S. Calumet raise inescapable questions about the CHA’s ability to manage contracts, monitor performance, and make necessary adjustments when contractors do not fulfill the terms of their contracts.