NEAR WEST SIDE — At an apartment complex on the Near West Side, a steering wheel locking “Club” — the kind meant to scare away car thieves — lays across the center of a basketball rim, locking the hoop.
It’s been there much of the summer and fall. And it’s keeping the kids and teens who live in the affordable housing units from using the new basketball court.
It stops teens like Latrell Johnson, a 16-year-old resident of the Barbara Jean Wright Courts apartment complex in University Village, who has been playing basketball since he was 11 and dreams of being a professional basketball player.
“They should not keep it closed, ” Johnson said, looking up at the locked rim on a warm September day. “I feel like they don’t want to see you make it.”
“They bring people down here,” he said of the lock.
Since the asphalt was repaved and the new hoops were installed outside the 272-unit complex a year ago, locked hoops have become common. The basketball court was intended to be used throughout the summer months, but one or both hoops were often locked all day, 13 Barbara Jean Wright residents said.
And on more than a dozen daytime visits to the court in September and October, Block Club Chicago found at least one of the basketball rims locked, preventing kids from playing basketball there.
Despite having a basketball court steps away, the locked rims — and infrequent access — has forced Johnson, a Chicago Tech Academy junior, and his friends who live in the apartments to find somewhere else to play. The teens instead walk nearly a mile from the apartments at 1354 S. Morgan St. to Pilsen’s Dvorak Park several times a week to play basketball.
The teens spend up to five hours each day playing and practicing drills at the Pilsen park during the summer months.
Johnson’s mother, Tamika, said the Barbara Jean Wright basketball court was supposed to be available for all children and teens in the complex, but instead, they remain locked more hours than they are unlocked.
“These courts should be open, but they’re not,” the mother said. “It takes another neighborhood to welcome our children so they can be safe and play basketball.”
Management: We Want The ‘Court Used Responsibly’
The basketball court is locked for “safety and security purposes” and to ensure that only Barbara Jean Wright residents use the courts, according to a spokeswoman for the building’s owners.
The building is owned by the for-profit Community Housing Partners IV LP, a partnership led by Chicago Community Development Corporation. Chicago Community Development Corporation acquired ownership of Barbara Jean Wright Courts in 1999 after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development moved to foreclose on the property.
The basketball court rules — which apparently include getting management permission to play ball — were verbally outlined for some residents who attended a June kickoff event for a basketball league at the property, the spokeswoman said. The rules were not communicated in a written newsletter, e-mail or posting to residents, she said.
Multiple residents, including Asia Slate, a 28-year-old mother of three, said the rules were never officially communicated to residents.
Those who want to use the courts must request access through property manager East Lake Management Group, the spokeswoman said.
Lorell White, the onsite property manager for East Lake Management, said the locks were put in place when the stationary baskets were installed (previously there were rollaway rims at the site). The locks were in response to the previous rollaway hoops being damaged, she said.
Between 2015 and 2017, the rollaway hoops were broken, the hoops removed and the backboard was shattered, White said.
From June to the end of August, the court is unlocked for a summer league team’s practice from 2:30-6:30 p.m. some days, White said.
Despite the locks and limited hours, White said residents can request access to the courts at the front office. The office has not received any complaints from residents regarding the locks on the basketball rims, White said.
“No one is excluded from any activity,” White said. “Everyone is welcome.”
But residents say that’s not how it works.
White declined to say who removes the lock if residents request it. According to 10 residents who spoke to Block Club Chicago, a resident is the gatekeeper of the locks and the person they’ve been told they need to reach out to in order to play on the court.
On Monday, that resident said he would discuss the basketball court rules with Block Club, but then drove away.
The court rules ensure management knows who is using the space and that “the court is being used responsibly,” Banden said.
Anthony Fusco Jr., president of the Chicago Community Development Corporation, and top officials at East Lake Management, owned by developer Elzie Higginbottom, former chairman of the Cook County Housing Authority board, did not return calls.
Slate said the informal rules come off as arbitrary in practice.
Residents have been given a myriad of reasons the basketball rim has been locked up, Slate said, including to prevent the disruption of the seniors who live in a nearby building and to deter gang activity.
Residents were also told the locks were to keep residents from nearby ABLA/Brooks Homes — a Chicago Housing Authority property — from using the courts, said Sam Douglas, vice president of the Barbara Jean Wright tenant council.
But they keep kids who live at Barbara Jean Wright from using the court, too, he said.
‘We Aren’t Animals, We Are Humans’
One resident who declined to be identified for fear of retaliation said she filed a complaint this summer with the front desk regarding the court regulations.
“We aren’t animals, we are humans. Just explain to us but don’t tell us [the basketball court] is for us, and for our kids, only to turn around and lock it up and tell us you can use it,” the resident said.
“What’s the point of having the rims, which are supposed to keep kids occupied instead of walking to Dvorak or Fosco and put themselves in danger,” she said.
Jessie Johnson, president of the Barbara Jean Wright tenant council, said she recently reached out to Fusco and another man who oversees the basketball league at the courts, because she was concerned about the lack of activity there.
The council was not asked to vote or weigh in on the basketball rim locks, according to Johnson.
Douglas, tenant council vice president, said the rules around the locks were never outlined.
“The rules are made up as they go along. They open them when they want,” he said. “I see [the locks] as a huge disrespect to the residents.”
“If you can’t use [the basketball court,] why have them there?” Douglas asked.
Another mother who lives in the building said her teenage sons also walk to Dvorak Park to play basketball.
“I hate that they have to go somewhere else to play,” the longtime resident said, pointing to the shuttered YMCA at Roosevelt and Morgan and closed Marcy Newberry community center. “Why have it and advertise it as an amenity if it can’t be used by the residents?”
“They are closing places, taking our resources and packing us in here and then pushing us out,” she said.
Muriel Miles, 55, who has lived at Barbara Jean Wright Courts for nine years, said some kids in the neighborhood are scared to play at Fosco Park on the Near West Side “because they get chased out.”
Meanwhile, a property just north of Barbara Jean Wright is being turned into an elite training facility for private St. Ignatius College Prep’s athletic programs, according to a school brochure.
But at Barbara Jean Wright, “these kids don’t have [anything] to do,” Miles said. “They have nothing.”
Douglas, who has lived at Barbara Jean Wright for 48 years, said the tenant council should be in charge of programming at Barbara Jean Wright Court. There’s a need for positive activities for teens and young adults — a positive outlet where they can cultivate their talents away from “what’s going on in the streets,” he said.
“You have a community of children that have nothing to do,” Douglas said. “And if you don’t give these kids something to live for, they are going to find something to die for.”
Hilario Dominguez, a 25th ward aldermanic candidate, was given a tour by a longtime resident around the Barbara Jean Wright Courts apartment complex. During the tour, he was surprised to see the car lock on the rims.
Residents were concerned that the reason the basketball court was locked was to control who is able to play, when people are able to play and to “dictate and decide who is deemed appropriate to play on the courts,” Dominguez said. It’s concerning when the court is meant “to help youth stay off the streets and give them something to do after school which is a dire need in communities of color,” he said.
Following ward redistricting, Babara Jean Wright Courts was split between two wards: Ald. Patrick Thompson (11th) to the south and Ald. Danny Solis (25th) to the north, where the basketball court sits.
Solis said he didn’t know the courts were being locked up, nor had any reports been made to his office. He said he was recently notified about some maintenance issues at the property and would ask Fusco why the basketball rims were being locked up.
Calls to Thompson’s office were not returned.
But in 2016, when he was dedicating a new playground at Barbara Jean Wright that promised to serve 500 neighborhood kids, Thompson said: “There [are] a lot of kids here at Barbara Jean Wright homes that really needed somewhere to play.”
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