We still live in a slum

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If you're looking for a tiny bag of cocaine on the edge of Old Town, just follow the flashing blue lights to those low-rise apartments on Evergreen and Sedgwick surrounded by half-million dollar condos.

Don't worry about the police cameras. Some helpful drug dealer who hides his dope in the hallway walls of unlocked buildings will certainly lead you out of sight -- to do anything less would be bad for business.

Inside, feel free to smoke your crack and pee in the corners. And if you spot a prostitute, enjoy her in the hallway and leave the condom on the floor.

The drug dealers and thugs at the New Evergreen/Sedgwick Apartments don't mind.

Most of them just "work" there.

But Clara Smith, who the bad guys refer to as the "nosy old bitch" who calls the cops, sure isn't happy about it.

And neither are folks who live in the publicly financed, mixed-income, subsidized housing complex.

They've been screaming about the conditions to the cops, the aldermen, federal housing officials and Urban Property Advisors -- the company that manages the place.

And they say their complaints haven't gotten much of a response from anyone -- not until recently.

Not until raw sewage bubbled up to the electrical outlets in a couple of apartments.

Not until their clout-heavy landlord, Allison Davis, one of Mayor Daley's top allies in the black community, and the property management company run by Davis' son was sued by the city, found liable for building code violations and fined $2,500 on May 31.

Not until federal housing inspectors made an appointment to visit.

Not until a certain reporter started sniffing around the neighborhood.

On a recent stroll through the complex, all the front doors were unlocked because security buzzers don't work. Hallway walls were covered with gang graffiti and pocked with holes. Stained carpets smelled like a urine-Pine-Sol cocktail.

"We can't let little kids in the hallways unattended because we don't know what they'll run into," says Beverly Jackson, who's in her 50s. "They do their drugs. They have their sex. ... We run into the baggies and the condoms."

This is one of those mixed-income complexes that's supposed to keep a gentrifying community diverse. Many people who live there are working folks: bus drivers, department store clerks, school teachers and retirees who pay about $700 a month for one-bedroom apartments in this tony part of town. And they're fed up.

For too long, they say, it seemed no one would help, not even Allison Davis -- who until January was a Chicago planning commission member appointed by Mayor Daley. He's Barack Obama's former boss and business partners with Tony Rezko, who's charged with demanding kickbacks from companies seeking state business under Gov. Blagojevich, among other things.

"Mayor Daley's always talking about fair housing and decent housing, and he's got Allison Davis, who he appointed on the planning commission," says Smith, who heads the tenants association that represents Evergreen/Sedgwick residents. "We still live a slum."

Davis got state-backed loans to buy the place with his partner Bill Moorehead -- who's headed to federal prison for stealing more than $1 million from public housing buildings he managed.

Davis' son, Cullen Davis, manages the buildings at 1300 N. Sedgwick. He responded to inquiries about the conditions there in an e-mail that focused on the recent sewer problems, and repairs that he says will be made in the next few weeks. He refused to be interviewed, and said he would only answer questions submitted in writing.

UPA executive vice president Kelly Brown says the company responds swiftly to tenant complaints, specifically the recent sewer trouble, which has been repaired. She says the company simply doesn't have the cash to make all the cosmetic repairs, install the secure doors, fix the intercom system and hire back security guards, which once patrolled the grounds at night. UPA had to tap reserve funds to help pay for the sewer repairs, which cost about $50,000, Cullen Davis said in an e-mail.

Brown says she believes some tenants are to blame for letting conditions get out of hand. Many times holes in the wall are repaired one day and punched out the next.

"I'm not saying we're perfect. But please don't think we are not trying," Brown says. "We do have canceled checks to show we have put in money on this project."

That's not good enough for tenants Rosalie Edwards and Ronald Will-iams, who live in separate first-floor apartments there.

They're trying to figure out how to rebuild their lives after that raw sewage bubbled up from their bathtubs, toilets and sinks to ruin almost everything they own.

Edwards and Williams said in letters to management that the sewer backups were a recurring problem that worsened on March 30, and continued for more than a week before UPA sent a plumber to help. The management company, however, claims the problem didn't occur until April 9, and repairs began on April 12.

Edwards and Williams both said they had to wait weeks before UPA offered them new apartments. Williams, a CTA bus driver, said he had to sleep in his car and on his ex-wife's couch. Edwards says she stayed with friends, and had to wear her only surviving business suit for a week straight to her customer service job at Neiman Marcus. The management company sent them letters saying they should prepare to move back on June 15, but the poop-stained apartments hadn't been touched until after my visit last week.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) knows about the problems at Evergreen/ Sedgwick. His chief of staff's daughter lives there, and he's walked the hallways to see the squalid conditions for himself.

Burnett says he's tried to broker meetings between Allison Davis and the tenants about their complaints. But each time Davis, who did not respond to calls for comment, canceled.

The owner and his son's management company just don't seem to be on the same page, the alderman says.

Earlier this week, construction crews were buzzing around Evergreen/Sedgwick quickly replacing doors, and repairing the apartments tainted by raw sewage and festering mold. Painters patched walls and covered the graffiti.

On Wednesday a contractor is supposed to begin fixing those broken security buzzers, Cullen Davis says.

Until then, be careful roaming those halls.

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3 Comments

Goose Island got its name from the immigrants who raised geese there around the turn of the century.

Coincidentally I walked from Division north on Sedgwick yesterday. There are padlocks on the outside of the gates. At first I thought the buildings were empty but then I heard music and noticed personal items in the windows.

I’m going to find a fire dept. official to tell; perhaps you could raise the issue with your contacts before someone dies in a fire.

A new housing complex going up in West Seattle.
Mixed income complex.
Grocery store/gas station on corner.
Selling the same stuff they sold when old projects were still standing.
Beer, fortified wine, erzatz speed, erzatz aphrodisiacs.
The usual....
and then some
Realistic looking toy handguns, prominantly displayed.
Crossbow pistols.
Pepper spray.
Tasers.
Knives.
Drug paraphenalia.....what are those little baggies for? Tiny sandwiches?
I shot a couple of e-mails to the city.
The guns and crossbows disappeared.
I am not nosey troublemaker.
I don't see the logic to spending millions to replace the old projects but leaving stores that seem made to order for high crime areas.
It's starting already.
Store is becoming gathering place.
Eight people at the bus stop....they ain't waiting for bus....they just hanging.

And get rid of that PHONEBOOTH! (the last phone booth in Seattle)

Waiting for the car prowls to start.

If they are going to build a new housing project maybe they should also evaluate what is going on in the general area.

Yeah...I know....free enterprise....the invisible hand.

And I thought hard before shooting e-mail to West Seattle Precinct.
Didn't want to behave like nosey old fart.
But ....
Lots of cats in neighborhood.
Did not want to find one shot through with a 6 inch arrow.

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Mark Konkol

Mark Konkol covers city neighborhoods for the Chicago Sun-Times. You can e-mail him or call (312) 321-2146.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Konkol published on June 29, 2007 12:04 PM.

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