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CHA Goes To Court To Close Cabrini Building

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Last Cabrini-Green High Rise

A moving truck idles in front of the last remaining Cabrini-Green high-rise, at 1230 N. Burling St. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) - The Chicago Housing Authority wants a federal judge to approve the closure of the last high-rise at the Cabrini-Green public housing project.

A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in U.S. District Court.

The CHA filed an emergency motion Tuesday seeking the closure. The motion came after two families refused to move from the high-rise at 1230 N. Burling St.

The families are the last residents left in the 134-unit building, which is known colloquially as “Scamplife.”

One of the residents, Annie Ricks, said she is not satisfied with the alternative housing the CHA is offering. She is seeking more time to give her and her four children more time to pack and find a better place.

Tuesday had been the deadline for residents to move out of the building. Officials said the building is no longer safe because of its low occupancy.

But Ricks told reporters Tuesday that she would not leave the building.

“They’re going to have to do what they’re going to have to do,” she said. “They’re going to have to have the police take me out.”

While Cabrini-Green was known for crime and violence for generations, another resident, Kenneth Hammond, says it’s safe now – particularly compared to the neighborhood where he was offered replacement housing.

“When we go to other neighborhoods, this is the safest neighborhood there is in the city of Chicago if you ask me,” Hammond said. “The homicide is down. There’s nobody getting shot at; nobody getting killed over here. We understand the occupancy of the building is low, but we just want to be somewhere safe for us and our family.”

Some former Cabrini residents still live in mixed income townhome developments in the area, paying what they can afford, but not most. Even so, the Chicago Housing Authority insists those residents will be better off living in mixed income communities throughout the city.

Hammond doesn’t agree after visiting one of those neighborhoods.

“These guys running through the alley. There were even some shots fired,” Hammond said. “And I went back to my family and said we need to re-think this out.”

The plan to vacate the last Cabrini-Green high rise is part of the CHA’s “Plan for Transformation,” which aims to eliminate the isolation of public housing residents.

Critics, though, have said the move to tear down Cabrini-Green and other CHA high rises is about turning over valuable property to wealthy developers.

A Look Back At Cabrini-Green
Cabrini-Green once sprawled from Evergreen Avenue on the north to Chicago Avenue on the south, and from the Brown-Purple Line ‘L’ tracks on the east to Halsted Street on the west.

The 70-acre development was initially hailed as a salvation for the city’s poor that was emulated nationwide. But it quickly decayed into a virtual war-zone, the kind of place where little boys were gunned down on their way to school and little girls were sexually assaulted and left for dead in stairwells.

With just the Burling Street building set to fall, mixed-income townhouses, shops and other redevelopment will go up in Cabrini-Green’s place, erasing from the landscape most traces of the island of poverty that the high-rises had become.

Cabrini sits literally in the shadows of the gleaming downtown skyscrapers.

The fashionable Lincoln Park neighborhood sits directly to the north. The galleries and chic lofts of the River North neighborhood are just to the south. The Old Town and Gold Coast neighborhoods, the nightclubs and bars of Rush and Division streets, and the Magnificent Mile are just a few blocks to the east.

And a few blocks east where the John Hancock Center and Water Tower Place soar skyward, handbags sell for more money than Cabrini residents pay in rent for a year.

The Cabrini-Green development began on the Near North Side in 1942 with row houses named for St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the Roman Catholic patron saint of immigrants – the only part of the development that will remain after demolition.

More than a dozen red brick high- and mid-rise buildings were added as the Cabrini Extension, between Division Street and Chicago Avenue, in 1958. The eight white concrete high-rises of the William Green Homes – of which 1230 N. Burling St. was one – were added in 1962.

But the buildings weren’t well-maintained, and crime, gangs and drugs soon became rampant. Individual gangs controlled specific buildings, and violence erupted often.

The infamy dates back as far as the summer of 1970, when Chicago Police Sgt. James Severin and Officer Anthony Rizzato were shot and killed by a sniper as they participated in a Walk-and-Talk project. Published reports said the shooting was intended to seal a pact between two rival gangs.

The complex drew nationwide attention in 1981, after a gang war killed 11 residents in three months. Then-Mayor Jane Byrne and her husband moved into a Cabrini apartment for three weeks to publicize her efforts to clean up the area.

In 1992, a Cabrini resident hiding in a vacant 10th-floor apartment shot and killed 7-year-old Dantrell Davis as he walked to school holding his mother’s hand.

In 1997, a 9-year-old girl known as Girl X was found raped, choked, poisoned and left in a stairwell with gang graffiti scribbled on her body. The attacker, Patrick Sykes, was setneced to 120 years in prison.

Numerous other stories about Cabrini-Green were told in tones of, as Wikipedia puts it, unalloyed horror. Snipers reportedly fired at numerous innocent targets, from the fire station at Division and Larrabee streets to the city workers who demolished the nearby Ogden Avenue viaduct in 1992, and, according to a 1985 Chicago Tribune article, even the Sandburg Village condo complex several blocks to the east.

But many residents described Cabrini-Green as a close-knit community, and resented the city’s plans to eliminate the project.

In the 1999 documentary “Voices of Cabrini,” 13-year-old Trevonte Pratt said: “Sometimes I am ashamed to say where I’m from because they are saying so much bad stuff about Cabrini. But it’s not all that bad. We’re like a family here.”

Still, the CHA began demolishing Cabrini-Green in 1995, as part of a sweeping plan to overhaul public housing and move away from the high-rise model of warehousing the poor.

Along with changing the city’s public housing system, the transformation plan has brought the political legacy of the powerful Daley family full circle. The elder Mayor Richard J. Daley is blamed for overseeing development of the high-rises decades ago, while his son, the current Mayor Richard M. Daley, has spent the last decade tearing them down and relocating residents.

The 1230 N. Burling St. building is set to be demolished in January or February.

(TM and © Copyright 2010 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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