In memory of Stephanie Hayes, a leader in the fight for seniors’ rights who passed away on March 3, 2018. Stephanie spent her last winter on this earth in a freezing cold apartment vowing to fight until her last breath. She was a resident of the Caroline Hedger apartment building in Chicago, a member of the Jane Addams Senior Caucus and a member of the renovation and relocation team.
By Linda Armitage
CHICAGO, IL – For three long years, the senior residents of the Judge Fisher and Caroline Hedger Apartments suffered mental and physical trauma at the hands of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and its corporate management agents and contractors.
During extensive renovations, residents have been subjected to mistreatment and a lack of communication about the scope of renovations (including notices provided only in English). There were no individualized plans or assistance for temporary relocation to other apartments or even other buildings. Schedules for moving were not adhered to and help with packing and relocating was inconsistent. There was no assistance with utility transfers and reimbursement of transfer fees took months. Bathroom grab bars were removed but not replaced until requests were submitted en masse. During renovations, residents were subjected to environmental and health hazards: the spread of lead, dust and asbestos contamination, along with dangerous noise levels and various elevator failures.
A major health concern was proper heating. Fisher residents had to utilize space heaters for a full winter and some residents endured similar outages in December 2017. Heating losses occurred at Hedger during the deep cold spells of December 2016 and December 2017, requiring residents to sleep in winter outerwear and use space heaters. This resulted in bursting of frozen water pipes, flooding and infestations of insects into damp apartments.
These and other upheavals in the lives of senior citizens have compromised their physical and mental health, their dignity and their right to live in safe and secure communities.
Residents repeatedly attempted to bring these matters to the attention of CHA, building management and contractors. Promises were made but not kept, and residents were publicly accused of telling lies, exaggerating and making trouble by contacting the media and utilizing other assistance to make their complaints known.
After many meetings, protests and media coverage, many issues were resolved or are being resolved due to resident leadership supported by organizers of the JASC. In an effort to avoid similar problems in the future, a team of JASC members formulated a model policy for renovation and relocation. This policy was submitted to CHA. But after a series of meetings with CHA and HUD, it is clear that they will not adopt this policy and don’t care about the well-being of seniors.
Since there are a number of senior buildings scheduled to begin renovations this year, the policy and the problems it could solve must be addressed now! We must stand up for the health and dignity of senior citizens. Safe housing is a human right and must be the priority of CHA.