Does Public Housing Belong To The Public? Humboldt Park Protesters Clash With CHA Over Long-Empty Apartments

HUMBOLDT PARK — A controversial Northwest Side housing developer and the Chicago Housing Authority are investigating allegations that employees of the development company tried to remove a group of protesters and local residents who have been living in vacant public housing buildings in Humboldt Park for several months.

Protesters, part of a group dubbed The Humboldt Park Housing Project, said workers from embattled property manager Hispanic Housing Development Corp. tried to force them out of apartments at 1629 N. Washtenaw Ave.

Neither the CHA nor Hispanic Housing responded to questions about how long the Humboldt Park building has sat vacant, but protesters said they have been living there since January.

Humboldt Park Housing Project members say their protest aims to push for more accountability from Hispanic Housing and the CHA, entities they say have failed to fulfill their mission of providing public housing to low-income Chicagoans by leaving properties empty as the city’s homelessness and affordability crises grow.

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) said CHA notified his office more than a year ago they intend to sell the Humboldt Park properties at the center of the clash, instead of fixing them up and readying them for low-income families.

“There’s a particularly egregious thing going on with public agencies that profess that their mission is to provide housing for people in need. All the while, the housing stock diminishes, the waiting list grows, the homelessness crisis is exacerbating all the time,” group member and occupier Wilson Mather-Glass said.

“So we wanted to … show that if they try to take us out of here, they are removing people from public housing, which is supposed to be for the public, for people who need places to be.”

Credit: Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago
Signs up at 1629 N. Washtenaw Ave., an empty CHA building that has been occupied by protesters in recent months.

The Humboldt Park Housing Project held a press conference outside of the Washtenaw Avenue building Friday morning to call attention to their mission and recent run-ins with Hispanic Housing officials.

In a July 26 incident caught on video, one of the protesters tells a Hispanic Housing worker they “have the right to due process,” to which the worker responds, “My due process is, I’m going to get you out of here right now. That’s my due process.”

The workers then bang on the protesters’ door, the video shows.

It’s not clear how the protesters got back inside the building.

Hispanic Housing officials didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment, but a company spokesman told the Sun-Times the matter is “being thoroughly investigated and the appropriate action will be immediately taken.”

The development firm “does not believe this is how anyone should be treated” and “does not condone this type of behavior under any circumstances,” Michael J. Keating told the Sun-Times.

The CHA is also looking into the July 26 incident.

“CHA takes these issues seriously and follows all appropriate legal processes to remove squatters from our property,” CHA spokesman Matthew Aguilar said in an emailed statement.

“We have viewed the video of the encounter on July 26 and have concerns about how this situation was handled by our third-party property manager and this incident is under investigation.”

Credit: Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago
Protesters and supporters standing around the Washtenaw Avenue building Friday to prevent officials from getting in.

Mather-Glass and a couple dozen others decried Hispanic Housing and authorities at Friday’s protest before property management showed up and then police.

Protesters and supporters stood around the perimeter of the house to prevent officials from going inside. The crowd broke up after police ordered them to disperse, according to the Sun-Times.

Aguilar, the CHA spokesman, said the CHA maintains more than 16,000 public housing units across Chicago and some are vacant for various reasons, including scheduled redevelopment and repair work.

When CHA apartments become available, they’re offered to people on the city agency’s waiting list, which is subject to federal regulations, Aguilar said.

Mather-Glass, 25, is an educator and food industry worker who lives in the Washtenaw Avenue building with a few other people who have struggled to find affordable apartments in Chicago.

Before the occupation, Mather-Glass was living in an apartment across Humboldt Park with several roommates. The group was forced to leave after the building sold, Mather-Glass said.

“We’re broke; we needed a place to live,” he said.

Inspired by similar movements in Oakland and Philadelphia, Mather-Glass and others occupied the vacant Hispanic Housing buildings, paying utilities but no rent.

Roommate Katie Williams said it took about $150 and four hours of work to make their apartment habitable — a step Williams and others said the CHA and Hispanic Housing could have easily taken.

“‘This house could be going to someone who really needed it’ — this is something that we’ve heard over and over from Hispanic Housing and the police as they stood by watching Hispanic Housing break in,” Mather-Glass said. “But we know that they are systematically preventing people from living in these homes. No one is going to live here.”

Protesters said they have no plans to leave the vacant CHA properties.

“When we moved into this house, the pictures of the family that lived here are still on the wall,” Williams said. “There’s no reason this house couldn’t be occupied by another family, to grow up in a nice neighborhood, on a nice block.”

Credit: Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago
A police officer talking to protesters after Friday’s news conference.

Hispanic Housing, a development firm that manages and develops properties across Chicago, has been embroiled in controversy in recent years, with residents accusing them of poor management and negligence.

The development firm manages a Rogers Park senior building where three women died from oppressive heat in May. Management allegedly left the heat on despite complaints of sweltering temperatures.

Residents of a senior building in Uptown went public in July with complaints of a rodent and cockroach infestation, constant flooding and other building issues. And a 2019 Block Club investigation revealed a Hispanic Housing veterans building in Humboldt Park suffers from a number of issues.

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August 9, 2022 at 09:00AM

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