Fuzzy History, Fuzzy Plan
8/23/2018, 6 a.m.
The barometer of history is usually a fair indicator of what will happen in the future. That is why history is often altered to conform to the circumstances that prevail in the present. Thus, the thirteen-year legacy of the public housing complex takeover, currently known as River Walk Homes (per the sign at the entrance on Broadway Street), is getting a little fuzzy.
“Fuzzy”, you ask? When the City of Joliet originally filed for eminent domain in 2005 to gain ownership of the housing complex it was borne out of frustration over the City’s inability to control the crime, vandalism, code violations, etc. Now that the city owns the property it seems all of those issues have either disappeared or been reduced because it doesn’t appear to be the focus of debate. It’s all about the financial issues. And the City has only owned it for a few months.
There never was a plan presented in writing, publicly, that either reduced or eliminated public housing at the current location. There was a lot of rhetoric and platitudes about better living conditions, but not a “plan” to accomplish the goal. The lawsuit brought against the city in 2011 contained factual allegations that were sobering and shocking. Following is some of the actual wording from that lawsuit:
“The City’s actions described herein were taken because of the race or color and of the current and prospective tenants of Evergreen Terrace. The purpose and effect of the City’s actions and proposed actions are to limit or reduce the number of Black or African-American residents residing within the City of Joliet. Such actions, if carried out, would have a disproportionate adverse impact on African-Americans and operate to perpetuate segregation in Joliet”.
The lawsuit also contained alleged derogatory quotes from a former Joliet City Councilman toward residents of the complex then called Evergreen Terrace.
The City of Joliet did not agree with the allegation and the Department of Justice later modified the suit. The City agreed to develop and implement a plan that no one would be displaced unless “adequate and affordable housing” in Joliet was available. A survey at that time, allegedly confirmed adequate and affordable housing was available in Joliet. So why is it that seven years later there is still no plan in place? According to most of the discussion at City Council meetings, there has been very little expression regarding what’s best for the current residents of River Walk Homes.
The neighbors who want to see River Walk Homes disappear often cite the redevelopment of Cabrini-Green public housing complex in Chicago as an example of how redevelopment could be done. Yep, it’s a more upscale development today but the truth is non of the former residents of the complex live in the area. A “Chicago Flashback” piece in this last Sunday’s Chicago Tribune commented on the redevelopment of Cabrini-Green’s demise. It said the removal of the high-rises was touted as an effort to rescue families trapped in multigenerational poverty.
The reality is somewhat different according to the piece by Ben Austen, author of “High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing.” Very few of the former residents of the complex were able to move into the mixed-income developments. Most former residents took Section-8 housing vouchers and rented private housing in predominately black neighborhoods with little or no available resources such as health care and grocery stores. Those neighborhoods also tend to be removed from those upscale apartment and housing complexes that are “mixed-income.”