CHICAGO (CBS) – U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson met Monday with Northwest Indiana residents forced from their homes by lead contamination.
More than 340 public housing units in East Chicago had to be abandoned after high lead and arsenic levels were discovered. The government has offered some assistance to those families, but the relocation experience is dependent on who you talk to.
East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland praised the government’s management of it all.
“The nation will use this as a blueprint on how to deal with lead crises or any other crises across the nation,” Copeland said.
But some former residents, like Tara Adams, do not see that blueprint as a positive thing.
“A blueprint of what not to do. Yeah. That’ll be good. Of what not to do,” she said.
Empty streets, open doors, broken windows – the West Calumet Housing Complex on Monday was a ghost town. More than 300 families were relocated in Indiana and Illinois. Some protested outside a local school where the U.S. Housing Secretary was meeting with officials.
“It’s been an uphill battle,” said former resident, Demetra Turner. “And I’m facing obstacles. But I’m here because I want to continue to fight. They need to clean East Chicago up.”
Flanked by the Indiana Governor, senators and other elected officials, HUD Secretary Ben Carson said mistakes have been made, but progress is good.
“We have to realize the importance of getting our citizens out of harm’s way. That’s been done here in a good way,” Carson said.
Carson toured the area on Monday and met with former residents who offered a different perspective – what went wrong.
“Not letting us know what’s going on, no transparency, no communication, no resident involvement – those are things that should have been done,” Former resident, Tara Adams said.
Officials said they play to learn from their mistakes and are now focusing on new developments.
“We’re trying to show them that they will be able, in the end, to return back home when we sit and put affordable housing back in place, to restore the lost stock that we had,” East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland said.
“We consider them Hoosiers, we want them to come home,” said Senator Joe Donnelly (Dem. – Indiana).
Officials also said the details still have to be worked out, which has residents nervous.
Some say they have been forced into unsafe neighborhoods or communities too far from their jobs and families.
A relocated resident told WBBM she had to give up her job because the only affordable housing she could find was in Joliet and she said the government hasn’t helped her enough.
Residents want a promise that they will get first crack at any new housing down the road.
Reporters asked Secretary Carson what he would say to the families who say they are struggling with relocation:
“I would say we have to lend a sympathetic ear. And we have to be open to using the resources and the connections that we have to try to alleviate their anxieties,” Carson responded.