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Jun. 7 2010 - 1:18 pm | 755 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

Cabrini residents fight building closing: ‘They want this neighborhood. It’s gold’

Dirreatha Smith, 39, gazes down the hall of her home at 1230 N. Larrabee in Cabrini-Green.

It’s not a particularly good time for Dirreatha Smith to move. This month, her oldest daughter graduates from high school, the middle one goes to prom, and the next finishes eighth grade. How do you plan a party when you’ve got 30 days to move out of your home of 18 years?

But that’s what Smith has to do. The Chicago Housing Authority has announced it’s closing her building in Cabrini-Green, 1230 N. Larrabee. She moves in just 5 days – hardly enough time to pack up a whole life’s worth of memories.

“It was a total surprise, not just to me, but to a lot of folks,” she says. “I’m upset. Who can pack in 30 days?”

Smith has lived on this block of Cabrini-Green, part of the complex dubbed “the whites” for it’s tall, pale buildings, for her entire life. When she thinks of this building, she thinks of the parties they used to have in the recreation room for Christmas and Halloween, and summer trips to Kings Island for neighborhood kids.

Luckily, Smith doesn’t have to leave the neighborhood. She’s been offered a space in the rowhouses, just a few blocks away. But after those close too, as all of Cabrini inevitably will, Smith doesn’t know whether she’ll continue to call this neighborhood home. She works as a janitor nearby, and while the salary she brings home isn’t huge for single mother with four kids – $43,000 a year – it’s too much for her to qualify for a unit in the newly built replacement housing in the mixed-income neighborhoods.

1230 N. Larrabee, which sits at the intersection of Division and Larrabee, is one of two highrises left at Cabrini

She worries about leaving the near North side and having to move to a neighborhood where she can afford the rent, but will have to deal with gang activity and violence. Every family she’s known that’s left Cabrini has ended up losing someone in their family to a shooting.

Well, isn’t there violence in this building? I ask. After all, CHA says they’re closing the building due to low occupancy and increased drug arrests.

She laughs. “Here? Maybe 15 years ago. It was bad then. But now, it’s coming up.”

There’s 31 families left in her building, a number that’s been dwindling down for awhile. She says she’s seen housing staff coming around with relocation materials, offering $200 gift cards to families that voluntarily relocate. She says she’s not foolish enough to fall for a deal like that – a home in a neighborhood she knows and where she has a job is worth way more than $200 – but many young, single moms aren’t so thoughtful.

“Our neighborhood is close to downtown. You can walk to the beach, to the zoo. Everything is right here,” she says. “Why would I want to leave?”

But unless the Chicago Anti-Eviction campaign can stop the CHA from closing 1230 N. Larrabee, it seems that Smith will leave her familiar unit by the end of this week. She hopes it isn’t a sign of things to come.

“If they can make a way for me to come back here, I will come back. I hope so.”

The Chicago Housing Authority did not respond to questions on this story.


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  1. collapse expand

    The displacement of these residents has been such a tragedy. Though I agree with the theory of mixed living, as opposed to centralization of low-income residents, the manner in which the CHA selected residents for relocation was based on an extremely stringent policy (credit checks, past crimes of any extended family members, etc.).

    I’ve been taking photos of Cabrini’s demise for some time. Here is a link to a couple photos that I have online. Enjoy.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/eholubow/sets/72157623339123258/

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    I'm a journalist living in Chicago writing about poverty and public housing. I don't come from the streets - I grew up on a farm. But I'm passionate about urban issues and getting to know people who are completely different from me. I'm quirky, funny and friendly.

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