CHA Mixed-Income Building Has Class Clash

Sara Olkon, Chicago Tribune, June 30, 2009

Low-income apartment dwellers and middle-class condo owners have shared Westhaven Park Tower since the building opened in 2006–an innovative setup that the city hoped would unite residents and exemplify Chicago’s $1.6 billion overhaul of public housing.

Proximity, however, has not led to harmony.

The most recent skirmish inside the 113-unit midrise on Hermitage Avenue on the West Side concerned building security. Another flare-up centered on the proper use of the lobby: Public housing residents–who make up a third of the building–saw it as a place to hang out; condo owners did not.

Kathy Quickery, president of the building’s condominium association, put it bluntly in a letter to the CHA last month: “After living in the building for three years, I consider the project a failure for homeowners.”

The mixed-income building is part of a local and national movement to house poor families side by side with working professionals instead of segregating them in gang-infested, dilapidated ghettos. Critics and supporters of the idea note that there have been conflicts. But they disagree about whether the tower’s troubles show that the CHA’s overall effort is struggling.

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Lester Roper, a public housing resident, described the relations between some owners and CHA residents as “very antagonistic.”

“It’s a hum . . . you definitely feel it,” Roper said.

He believes the disagreement cuts along racial lines. Most of the CHA residents are black, and the condo owners and their renters are more racially diverse.

But Antwan Dobson, an owner and former condo president who is African-American, argues the problems have been more about lifestyle differences. Dobson, who was raised by a foster parent on the West Side, said he understands isolation and struggle.

“They’ve been so confined to a couple of blocks,” he said of public housing residents. “I try to teach them the socially acceptable lifestyle.”

Sometimes the lesson isn’t welcome. Dobson played a central role in what grew into one of the first big skirmishes between owners and CHA residents at Westhaven. In fall 2006, Dobson, then condo president, said he received calls from real estate agents who complained that residents were lounging for long periods of time in the lobby, making the building less attractive to buyers.

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