CHA resident rattled by temporary displacement for flooding, sewage repairs

Mauricio Vasquez, who has complained about flooding and sewage at his CHA property, said he was abruptly asked to leave his apartment with less than a 24-hour warning so repairs could be made.

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Mauricio Vasquez poses for a portrait outside his home on the 2000 block of West 19th St in Pilsen, Thursday, July 2, 2020.

Mauricio Vasquez poses for a portrait outside his home on the 2000 block of West 19th St. in Pilsen, Thursday, July 2, 2020.

| Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Mauricio Vasquez, who has continually complained about flooding and sewage at his CHA property for the last five years, said he was abruptly asked to leave his apartment with less than a 24-hour warning so repairs could be made.

The 59-year-old and Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) had a Zoom chat with agency officials on Wednesday. Vasquez said during the meeting, he was assured he would be given written details by next week about repairs and when he’d be able to move back in after work was done at his Heart of Chicago apartment, in the 2000 block of West 19th Street.

But later Wednesday, he and another family were told they had to leave the two-story building by Thursday morning. Vasquez said he was told he could leave his belongings inside his apartment, but he had to remove items he had placed in the basement storage space.

By 11 a.m. Thursday, crews, including workers from the city’s Water Department started fixing what the CHA described as an “emergency situation” that required the temporary evacuation.

The housing agency said residents will be able to return once the repairs are completed.

“Once rectified, residents will be able to return to the property,” a statement from the CHA said. “The hope is that it will be rectified in the coming days.”

But Vasquez told reporters CHA officials never assured him when or if he could return to the building.

The CHA offered Vasquez a hotel and money for food during the repairs, but he was worried staying at a hotel would expose him to the coronavirus.

Mauricio Vasquez speaks to the media during a press conference outside Vasquez’s home on the 2000 block of West 19th St in Pilsen, Thursday, July 2, 2020.

Mauricio Vasquez speaks to the media during a press conference outside Vasquez’s home on the 2000 block of West 19th St. in Pilsen, Thursday, July 2, 2020.

| Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“I just need a nice place, a decent place to live in,” Vasquez said at a news conference Thursday while waiting to hear back from relatives to see if he could stay with them temporarily.

“They [CHA] don’t provide that for me. They’ve been providing this horrific, ugly place to live in and I still have to be paying my rent. I just need this to get done.”

Vasquez said he’s been complaining about the flooding and sewage problems that have plagued the building’s basement and backyard for the last half decade. A video he provided showed him using a shovel to remove what appears to be mud and feces near a drain in the concrete backyard of the property that is part of the CHA’s “scattered sites southeast,” which consists of more than 170 other properties.

The CHA said a problem was reported on June 12, and that it previously made repairs to the property and relocated residents.

Sigcho-Lopez said CHA officials should have given Vasquez and the other family a timetable for repairs, as they promised, instead of giving them such a short notice before the work started.

“When we make commitments, and I was in the meeting, we need to make sure we make these commitments in writing,” the alderman said.

Carlisa Thomas, who lives in the ABLA/Brooks Homes less than two miles away, joined Vasquez at the news conference outside his home Thursday. Thomas, 34, is concerned that CHA residents are continually mistreated because many of them are people of color. She expects barricades will be placed around the ABLA/Brooks Homes and residents will be blocked from parking on the streets this Fourth of July weekend as they have in the past.

“Just because we are low income, just because we are Black, does not mean that we are all violent,” Thomas said. “That does not mean that we disrespect our area.”

Carlisa Thomas, center, speaks with Adourthus McDowell, right, after a news conference outside Mauricio Vasquez’s home on the 2000 block of West 19th St in Pilsen, Thursday, July 2, 2020.

Carlisa Thomas, center, speaks with Adourthus McDowell, right, after a news conference outside Mauricio Vasquez’s home on the 2000 block of West 19th St. in Pilsen, Thursday, July 2, 2020.

| Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Thomas said the barricades makes residents feel like “one big rat race” and that problems stemming from parties in parking lots are never addressed or resolved.

“It almost created jails in our communities,” Sigcho-Lopez said about the barricades. “It is unconscionable to see these kinds of practices in the name of public safety.”

The CHA said Thursday it was working with Chicago police to “limit incoming traffic to residents” at the ABLA/Brooks Homes during the holiday weekend.

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.

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