July 9, 2008

East of the River residents speak out about New Communities Initiative

by Kate Perkins and Jessica Wright, Community Bloggers.

Lincoln Heights

In the middle of the July heat, we traveled to the Lincoln Heights (Ward 7) and Barry Farm (Ward 8) housing projects to ask residents about their thoughts on the upcoming New Communities Initiative. As part of the district's New Communities Initiative, the district plans to demolish and later rebuild both of these severely dilapidated complexes. Unlike Hope VI programs, the New Communities Initiative promises to replace the housing of current housing project residents on a one-to-one basis. The details of the destruction and relocation still remain murky to advocates and residents alike.

Many residents we spoke with had never heard of the New Communities initiative, but were aware that plans are in place to move them out of their homes while the area is demolished and rebuilt. While opinions on the development were mixed, most felt that it would be a positive change. Sophia*, a resident of Richardson Dwellings, stated that, “When New Communities comes about and they bring back all these programs and everything, these people need to be a part of that—they've been a part of the bad, now they need to be apart of the good.” Others felt that newer housing would boost the morale of those living there. A number of residents seemed open to moving back in following the renovation, but many are waiting to see the results of the project before making any decisions.

While most people were hopeful that New Communities would be a positive change, their fears seemed to stem from a lack of information. Some residents had seen mailings and fliers or attended meetings concerning the initiative, but others knew about the project only through friends. No one knew where they would be moved, and only Irene Clayton, a resident of Lincoln Heights, gave a suggestion of how long they would be displaced—two years. Margaret Mabry, of Barry Farm, wants to move back in but fears that she won’t be able to, and is concerned that the rent may be jacked up following the construction.

Our visit to Lincoln Heights and Barry Farm revealed a bit about what life is like in these complexes. Some of the residents we spoke with had lived in the projects for many years, and became nostalgic when speaking about how things used to be. According to Sophia, “When I was a child around here it wasn't as bad….The kids played together a lot more, they had a lot more recreation, a lot more programs for the kids.” Mabry, who has lived at Barry Farm for 40 years, claimed that it was the new people moving in the area that made Barry Farm “go bad.” Theresa*, who has lived at Lincoln Heights for the past two years with her 13-year-old daughter, is ready to be done with the projects forever. She has avoided meeting her neighbors to keep her and her daughter safe, and is disgusted with the broken streetlights, lack of doors on buildings, and loud noises at night. She doesn’t plan to return after the revitalization. “Why would people want to come back?” she asked.

Our conversations at Lincoln Heights and Barry Farm only left us with additional, and so far unanswerable, questions. Where, and when, will residents be moved? What does “one-to-one” replacement really mean, if only 1/3 of the new units are promised to be low-income housing? Why aren’t residents more informed of the changes that will affect them in dramatic ways? While the New Communities initiative is bringing hope to many, it remains to be seen if the program can really deliver all it has promised.

Barry Farm

*Name has been changed

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