Former CHA resident Deborrah Tipps has been waiting nine years for public housing. She's vowed to keep fighting. Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago

CITY HALL — Housing advocates rallied at City Hall Thursday, demanding the removal of Chicago Housing Authority CEO Tracey Scott after the agency approved a plan to sell former public housing land to a South Side tennis center this week.

The CHA board voted Tuesday to approve the sale of two land parcels to XS Tennis Village Founder Kamau Murray, who wants to build housing for his employees and visiting athletes.

The land is part of the former Robert Taylor Homes, a public housing development razed in 2007. Most of the land has remained vacant since. Tuesday’s decision is another blow against the fight to return public housing to the residents who once lived there, advocates said.

CHA officials said the $25,000 deal for the land at 5400-02 S. Dearborn St. activates a “vacant parcel of land” with new housing. Murray described the two lots as “small parcels” that couldn’t be built upon separately.

The deal “supports CHA’s pledge to bring both market-rate and affordable apartments back to the area formerly occupied by the Robert Taylor Homes, as well as apartments for residents from CHA’s waiting list,” CHA officials said in a statement. “It is our belief that this project will serve as a further catalyst for future development on the south end of the Taylor footprint.”

Activists from the Lugenia Burns Hope Center and the Chicago Housing Initiative said Scott has lost sight of the mission by putting profits over people, continuing a pattern to free up CHA land for private projects unrelated to housing.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Fire owner Joe Mansueto, CHA CEO Tracey Scott and Deputy Mayor Samir Mayekar at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Chicago Fire on the Near West Side. Credit: Melody Mercado/Block Club Chicago

In March, the federal government approved the agency’s plan to lease 23 acres of public housing land to the Fire pro soccer team despite protests from former residents of the ABLA Homes.

Last year, CHA entered a $10.3 million land swap deal with Chicago Public Schools to lease former Harold Ickes Homes land on the Near South Side for a proposed community high school. A similar swap was made in 2015 to build a turf field and track for Jones College Prep, also on the former Harold Ickes Homes.

The trend of the selling public housing land to private developers long predates Scott, who was appointed as CEO in 2020, organizers said. But Scott has defended decisions around some of these land swaps and signaled the agency needs to pursue more of these public-private partnerships in order to provide more mixed-income housing.

Ultimately, two decades after the CHA tore down and promised to rebuild public housing sites in its Plan for Transformation, much of that land is still empty. 

“This has been an issue for us for the last 20 years,” said Rod Wilson, Lugenia Burns Center executive director. “When the Plan for Transformation first came about, we told the CHA to do it in a balanced way: vacate the housing, rebuild some housing, bring folks back, then do it again. What they wanted to do was displace thousands of Black families because, in my opinion, they knew they weren’t going to bring those families back.”

Don Washington, executive director of the Chicago Housing Initiative. Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago

The activist was joined by Don Washington, who leads the Chicago Housing Initiative. Washington pointed to the “exile of 268,000 African Americans” from Chicago as proof that the city isn’t doing enough to help its most vulnerable residents.

Estimated wait times for public housing and project-based vouchers range from as little as three to six months to over 25 years, according to the CHA website.

A CHA spokesperson said around 100,000 families are waiting for public housing, 25,000 families are waiting for vouchers and 189 remain on their “Right to Return” list. Twelve families are former Taylor residents.

Washington said those numbers show the Plan for Transformation and the Moving to Work programs have failed the very people they were created to help.

Tracey Scott says the CHA is ‘open for business,‘ and that business is displacing Black, Brown and poor people from the land that is their land,” Washington said. “The CHA isn’t a job but a sacred trust. They’ve been entrusted to protect public land to house people that no market can ever house.”

Deborrah Tipps has spent nine years waiting for a voucher for a one-bedroom apartment. Tipps’s mother spent 28 years on another list for a voucher, passing away before her number was called, she said.

The grandmother pays market rate rent for her unit in the Rosenwald Court Apartments and estimates that half of her monthly income goes towards keeping a roof over her head, leaving her little money for anything else.

“I know in everything in life there’s a wait, but this is a disaster. I heard housing is a human right but we’re not treated that way,” Tipps said. “When someone else can come in and take housing we’re still waiting on, that’s not right.”

In addition to replacing Scott, the group wants a moratorium on public housing land sales and a meeting with Mayor Brandon Johnson.

A representative from the mayor’s office told Block Club on Thursday there is a plan for senior City Hall aides to meet with housing advocates soon.

Buildings and vacant land in Bronzeville, as seen from above 40th and State streets. The Robert Taylor Homes ran along State Street between Pershing and 54th before they were razed in 2007. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Murray of XS Tennis also wants to meet with organizers, specifically Wilson, he said.

The tennis coach said it was “unfair” of the activist to lump him in with billionaire megadevelopers when he’s only trying to take care of the community that raised him.

“It took me two years to get that land from CHA,” Murray told Block Club. This housing isn’t for people coming from Russia. It’s for my employees who want to live in the community.”

Murray said he supports efforts to bring public housing residents back to the former Taylor homes, telling housing commissioners his is the only development south of 47th Street. The added residential density would complement his efforts to reach more Black families through tennis, he said.

“I think we’ll be able to reach some common ground. I told him he can pull up. He knows where I am,” Murray said.

Wilson said Murray isn’t the issue; the CHA is.

“It’s about what they’ve done. I have no problem with him,” Wilson said.

Help Block Club Get
500 More Subscribers!

Subscribe to Block Club now and you’ll get a free 16-by-20-inch Chicago neighborhood print of your choice, helping us reach our goal of getting 500 more subscribers before 2024. Click here to subscribe or click here to gift a subscription.

Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: Twitter @thewayoftheid