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‘Planning for demolition’ at Altgeld Gardens

Over objections from residents – and despite assurances that residents will be consulted – CHA is submitting an annual plan to HUD that includes $7.3 million for “planning for demolition” of one-third of the public housing units at Altgeld Gardens.

The move comes as the citywide CHA resident leaders’ organization has called for a moratorium on demolition and for rehabbing unoccupied units at Altgeld and at other remaining traditional developments.

It comes as the need for low-income housing continues to grow, while CHA public housing production has slowed dramatically, and the city produces a handful of low-income units annually under its affordable housing plan.

And it comes as housing activists who’ve exposed CHA’s receipt of HUD operating funds for unoccupied housing units are revealing a new no-strings funding stream from HUD – capital subsidies which continue for years for units that have been demolished.

Plan first, talk later

On Tuesday, the CHA board approved the annual plan under HUD’s Moving To Work program.  According to the plan: “After reassessing future developments needs at [Altgeld Gardens and Murray Homes], CHA has determined that it will undertake planning for the demolition of the remaining 648 non-rehabilitated unoccupied units.”

CHA has budgeted $7.3 million for “planning for demolition” at Altgeld, according to the document.  Rehab of 1,300 units at the Far South Side development was completed in 2010.

Last week People for Community Recovery, an organization of Altgeld residents, received assurance from CHA chief Charles Woodyard that no demolition would occur prior to a community planning process, scheduled to kick off with a town hall meeting next month.  Woodyard responded after the group handed Mayor Emanuel a letter asking him to intervene to save Altgeld’s housing, said Cheryl Johnson, executive director of PCR.

“It would be more reassuring for us if they took [funding for demolition] out of the plan,” she said.

“It’s backwards,” said Leah Levinger of the Chicago Housing Initiative, a coalition of community organizations working with tenants in federally-backed housing.  “Why not have the conversation first, before you submit a plan to HUD?”

“There’s no evidence these buildings are not structurally sound or that it’s not cost effective to rehab,” she added.  “Until there is, demolition seems senseless and wasteful.”

Moratorium

The CHA’s Central Advisory Council, comprising elected representatives of public housing developments, calls for a moratorium on demolition in a recent report outlining recommendations for the current “recalibration” of CHA’s Plan for Transformation.

Citing decreases in federal funding and a growing shortage of low-income housing, CAC calls on CHA to prioritize preservation of public housing, “specifically rehabilitation and reconfiguration of existing CHA units.”  Rehab is significantly more cost-effective and involves far fewer development hurdles, CAC notes.

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Two new libraries represent community victories

The official opening of the Richard M. Daley Library last month attracted lots of dignitaries (including the former mayor himself, as well as his successor) and lots of attention.  Now the community which fought for years to get the library is holding its own celebration.

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Year in review

Fenger High School. The numbers of Chicago students killed, often just after school, have risen steadily since 2006.  But Derrion Albert’s beating death in September was videotaped by a fellow student, and the brutal images captured the nation’s attention.  The attorney general and secretary of education were even sent to Chicago, heavily armed with promises and platitudes.

In many ways Fenger High School epitomizes the issues of school closings under Mayor Daley’s Renaissance 2010 program, with students forced into volatile mixes at distant high schools.   Carver High School in the Altgeld Gardens area became a selective enrollment academy in 2006, and Fenger’s staff was entirely replaced this year in a school “turnaround.”  That record put Education Secretary Arne Duncan on the defensive when he visited in October.

Community organizers at Altgeld Gardens, saying their kids face continuing violence at Fenger, are tenacious in their demand for restoration of a local option.  And they are backed by a growing movement against Renaissance 2010 led by the Grassroots Education Movement and the Caucus of Rank and File Educators.

Backed by GEM, Altgeld parents and students were at City Hall this week to press their demands.  GEM holds a citywide education summit January 9 at Malcolm X College.  CORE, which swept a recent union election for pension trustees, will announce the results from a poll of its members for its slate in the upcoming election of Chicago Teachers Union officers.

Growing community opposition forced CPS to cancel six school closings in February, and while CPS chief Ron Huberman has said no high schools will be closed next year, GEM is aiming at no closings, period.  Meanwhile, over opposition from Mayor Daley and Governor Quinn, State Representative Cynthia Soto’s school closings bill was enacted in November.  That could mean legislative hearings in coming months – potentially a meaningful alternative to the last-minute, pro-forma hearings held by CPS every winter.

In the February primary, it’s likely that Altgeld and Roseland residents will get to vote on a referendum to reestablish a general admission high school in Altgeld.  The larger issue is how much say community members have in the decisions that are made about their schools.

AT&T and Public Access. While brigades of bucket trucks ply Chicago alleys laying infrastructure for AT&T’s U-verse video service, there’s no word on an investigation into the company’s treeatment of public access channels launched a year ago by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Also pending are petitions before the FCC charging that AT&T discriminates against public, educational and governmental channels by segregating them on a separate menu, including a petition by members of Congress filed in October of 2008.  Rep. Jan Schakowsky urged action on the petitions last summer.

In October, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) introduced legislation to protect PEG channels, which has been co-sponsored by Schakowski along with Reps. Danny Davis, Luis Gutierrez and Mike Quigley.  (For updates see www.keepusconnected.org.)

Honduras. The human rights situation has worsened since the November 29 election, with the return of death squad-style violence against community leaders which hasn’t been seen since the 1980s, according to a recent report in In These Times.

The post-coup regime “is in serious violations of all protocals” under international human rights standards, says an Amnesty International observer.  “Almost all basic rights have been cancelled” – including the rights of free expression, a free press, freedom of movement and association, and freedom from torture, said Javier Zuniga.

Mark Weisbrot of CEPR lists the top ten ways you can tell the U.S. government supports the coup – and number one is that the Obama administration has never condemned “massive human rights violations committed by the coup regime” and documented by AI, Human Rights Watch, the OAS, and others.

Locally the solidarity group La Voz de los de Abajo continues to organize support for resistance to the coup in Honduras, posting news at the blog Honduras Resists.  The group is planning another human rights delegation to Honduras from January 23 to 30, said Vicki Cervantes, and plans to host representatives of the resistance in Chicago in February.   They’re keeping up pressure on the Obama administration to denounce the violence.

Hennepin Steel Jobs. Steelworkers in Hennepin, Illinois, continue to push for a sale of their plant, which is being closed by ArcelorMittal, with 300 jobs on the line.

Equipment is being removed, but nothing essential has been taken yet, said Joe Pakula of USWA Local 7367 last week.

Workers and supporters are still manning a picket line daily, keeping an eye on things, and with a couple entrepreneurs still expressing interest, workers continue to pressure the giant multinational to accept a reasonable price for the modern mill, he said.

Newspapers. Some 140 daily and weekly newspapers ceased publishing this year, with the loss of perhaps 15,000 journalists’ jobs, according to Newsosaur.  Most newspaper remain profitable (unlike internet news outlets) but not at the historic levels required to pay off huge debt-laden deals many owners assumed in recent years.

Meanwhile, responding to the decision by the Detroit News and Free Press to cut back home deliveries – and picking up journalists laid off by the city’s two dailies – entrepreneurs launched a third daily paper in Detroit in November, the Detroit Daily Press.

Altgeld parents call for new school

Fenger parents are going door-to-door today collecting signatures on a petition calling for a new neighborhood high school to serve Altgeld Gardens.

Fenger parents from the Committee for Safe Passage will canvas the neighborhood after noon and hold a press conference at 1:30 p.m. today (December 14) at the office of People for Community Recovery, 13116 S. Ellis.

They are proposing establishing the Hazel Johnson School for Environmental Justice, named for the founder of PCR, a pioneer in the environmental justice movement.  They are calling for an open-enrollment school with union teachers and an elected LSC, according to a release.  And they want it to open immediately.

The Committee for Safe Passage was founded after the beating death of Derrion Albert outside Fenger in October.  Last week a federal court ruled that because CPS couldn’t guarantee students’ safety, Fenger students could transfer to one of four schools.  (See Newstips from October and November.)

But the only school in the Altgeld community, Carver Military Academy, was made selective enrollment in 2006.  Altgeld parents point out that building housing military academy could house additional schools.

“We’re committed to make sure that our kids have their neighborhood high school back for their security, protection, and education,” said Cheryl Johnson of PCR (and Hazel Johnson’s daughter). “They need an environment conducive to learning—it’s evident that they are not getting that at Fenger.”

Fenger Update: Referendum, Lawsuit, Summit

With some saying violence at Fenger High School has increased sharply since Derrion Albert’s killing on September 24, Far South Side residents are collecting signatures for a referendum to open the old Carver High School building to students from Altgeld Gardens, and high school students from Altgeld are bringing a federal lawsuit charging CPS with violating their constitutional rights.

Meanwhile, anti-violence groups are planning to bring students from Altgeld and Roseland together for a peace summit – and for Thanksgiving dinner.

Ceasefire is planning to bus 60 kids from Roseland and Altgeld downtown for a Ceasefire Peace Summit this Saturday, November 14; a press conference to give young people an opportunity to voice their opinions will be held mid-afternoon, following the summit, said Tio Hardiman.

Kids Off the Block is planning its annual Thanksigiving Dinner for area teens, and Diane Latiker says they plan to have Fenger High School students from Altgeld and from the area around Fenger known as the Ville – who were fighting when Albert was killed – “to sit together, take their prayers together, and eat together.” KOB involves youth from both areas and from other far south high schools where there’s been violence, she said.

Starting today, the Developing Communities Project is collecting signatures to place a referendum on the February 2 ballot in the 9th and 34th Wards calling for restoring the original name of George Washington Carver High School, in order “to ensure greater access and academic/vocational options” for Altgeld and other area students.

DCP envisions additional academic and vocational schools that would be open to neighborhood students sharing the building that now houses the Carver Military Academy. Enrollment in the military academy has declined dramatically since it was made selective enrollment in 2006, and the building could house three or four times as many students as it does now, said John Paul Jones of DCP.

The proposal grows out of a DCP task force examining the loss of vocational education in far south high schools in recent years. Another goal of the referendum is to honor Carver himself, a former slave who whose legacy — defying myths of racial inferiority and promoting education and sustainable agriculture — remains relevant, Jones says.

“There’s huge opportunity in green technology and other industries,” he said. “Bring on a science and technology academy, a botany program, an urban agriculture program.” One option in the building should be a general high school, he said.

Asking for Trouble

“I’m all for it,” said Lattiker of the referendum. “When they made the decision to move young people out of their community and put them in another community…nobody asked the youth what they thought.”

Opened in 2000, Carver Military Academy originally had a student body drawn largely from Altgeld, said Colonel Tony Dagget, who served as the academy’s first commandant. The school was open to any student (the only requirement was an interview with a parent), focused on a college preparatory curriculum, and required parental involvement, he said.

There were “no fights – they weren’t tolerated,” and dropout rates declined dramatically, he said. “The Altgeld students were doing extremely well.”

In 2006 Dagget “chose to be terminated” rather than support then-CPS chief Arne Duncan’s proposal to institute selective enrollment. He says “the school had become a bargaining chip” to offset demands for a new high school in Hegewish, to the east; students there are now bused to Carver Military.

“The school belonged to the community,” he says. “It was clear to me it was an attempt to take it away from the community.”

He adds: “When Arne Duncan was pushing to go to selective enrollment [and send Altgeld students to Fenger], I told them you can’t just throw two high school cultures together without surveys, interviews and a process for dealing with cultural differences — otherwise you’re asking for trouble.”

Violence up, transfers stalled

While CPS said in October that Altgeld students at Fenger could get help transferring to Carver Military or other high schools, civil rights attorney Christopher Cooper says that isn’t happening.

“Parents go to Fenger for transfer papers, and they’re told to go to Carver; at Carver they say they don’t have the papers, and they should ask at Fenger,” he said. “Other high schools in the city that have space to take these kids have said no, they don’t want kids from Fenger.”

Cooper is representing students who live at Altgeld Gardens and attend Fenger – and who say the school is failing to create a safe environment for them. That violates the right to equal access to public education, Cooper says.

“If every day somebody’s beating you up and every day you are detained by security and made to sit in a [detention] room with your bruises, you’re not getting an education,” he said. “And if you’re not going because you’re terrified, you’re not getting an education.”

A number of Cooper’s clients have stopped attending school, some saying they fear for their lives; those who are going “are reporting that the school is more violent than ever,” he said.

One of his clients is a 14-year-old who “was beaten unconscious and throwing up blood,” Cooper said. He predicts CPS lawyers will seek to avoid an injunction hearing in which his clients would testify about continuing violence at the school.

“What’s needed is a clearly articulated transfer program” for students who want to go elsewhere, he said. And it needs to be implemented immediately, not next year, he said.

“Some kids from Roseland want a death from Altgeld for Derrion, and they’re not going to stop until it happens,” said Cheryl Johnson at People for Community Recovery, an organization based in Altgeld Gardens. “We’re trying to stop that.”

One Altgeld mother says her sons have been repeatedly beaten up by large groups at Fenger. “They need to be able to go to our own school,” she says, noting the 45-minute bus ride to Fenger. “I feel they should be closer to home.”



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