Posted on March 1, 2005

It’s Bleak but It’s Home

P.J. Huffstutter, Los Angeles Times, Mar. 1

CHICAGO — For 24 years, Gladys Franklin has called the Cabrini-Green projects home.

The high-rise where she lives is decaying, and nearly a third of the doors and windows are boarded up. Squatters have broken into some of the apartments. Other units sit empty.

The elevator works only when it wants to, so Franklin refuses to take it. Instead, she hobbles to the stairwell that reeks of urine. Stepping over a broken crack pipe, she inches down the 14 steps from her second-floor home.

It’s a journey that can take an hour.

Franklin knows that Cabrini-Green is a flawed and dangerous place to live, especially for an 83-year-old grandmother crippled by arthritic pain. But the gangs couldn’t drive her away and, swears the old woman, neither will the city of Chicago.

“The city talks of a new world, a better life for all of us,” Franklin said. “But all we get are broken promises.”

Housing officials want to relocate Franklin and about 1,400 residents who remain at Cabrini-Green, one of the nation’s most notorious public housing projects. For the last five years, the Chicago Housing Authority has been gradually emptying Cabrini-Green as part of a 10-year, $1.6-billion plan to level public housing projects. Similar efforts are underway across the country.

The towers of poverty in different projects throughout Chicago have been deemed unlivable by federal and city officials. They are to be replaced with condominiums and row houses where the impoverished and the well-heeled would live side by side.


It’s not hard to disappear in a place like Cabrini-Green.

During its height in the 1970s, 15,000 people lived there.

Today it is a ghost town. Many of the buildings’ exteriors are charred from fires set by transients. Gang graffiti cover the hallways and elevator doors. The sidewalks are mostly deserted.

Franklin has watched the neighborhood decay over the decades. She followed her husband to Chicago in the 1940s from Georgia, where she had dropped out of the third grade. When she worked as a factory laborer, which wasn’t often, she would rely on neighbors to watch over her kids.