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HUD secretary visits Chicago: ‘The lack of affordable housing in this country is a crisis’

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge also praised fixes underway at Concordia Place, a HUD-funded housing development on the Far South Side.

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge speaks as Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot listen after a tour of Casa Querétaro in the Pilsen neighborhood, where they joined elected officials on a tour of the apartment and talked about the Build Back Better agenda, Tuesday morning, October 5, 2021. Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge speaks as Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot listen after a tour of Casa Querétaro in the Pilsen neighborhood, where they joined elected officials on a tour of the apartment and talked about the Build Back Better agenda.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times, Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

On a visit to Chicago, the nation’s top housing official made it clear the housing crisis is nearing a point of no return.

“We know that the lack of affordable housing in this country is a crisis,” Marcia Fudge said Tuesday morning at Casa Queretaro, 2012 W. 17th St. “There’s nowhere in this country today where a person making minimum wage can even afford a two-bedroom apartment —nowhere. We know that renters are behind on their rent because of COVID. If we cannot fix this now, I do not know if it can be fixed.”

Fudge, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, toured two affordable housing developments: Casa Queretaro in Pilsen and Concordia Place on the Far South Side.

At both stops, she emphasized President Biden’s dedication to Black and Brown communities through his “Build Back Better” plan, which includes money for new and rehabbed housing, as well as economic development and community revitalization.

She promised the federal government is doing everything it can to fix the housing crisis, including “neutralizing” student loan debt, lowering monthly mortgage rates and ending “the systemic racism that for so long held Black people and Brown people back from homeownership, the dream of most Americans.”

Fudge’s visit comes just before Biden, who will be in the Chicago area Thursday to highlight his order requiring large employers to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for their workers.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other elected officials promised to work in conjunction with the federal government to reach these goals.

But Fudge’s visit to Concordia Place — privately owned, though it receives funding from HUD — follows months of backlash after reports earlier this year of water leaks, mold and rodent infestations. In March, the Rev. Jesse Jackson called for a rent strike until improvements were made.

At Tuesdays news conference, Fudge said improvements were underway, and that the work at Concordia could become a blueprint for affordable housing developments across the nation.

Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks about the progress and improvement of housing conditions at Concordia Place Apartments in Eden Green, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks about the progress and improvement of housing conditions at Concordia Place Apartments in Eden Green.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“We have started to see that there are Concordias all over the United States, unfortunately,” Fudge said. “I’ve been with your mayor all day today, and we are all on the same page, committed to making sure that people can live decently, that we do everything we can to make sure that every person in this country does live with the kind of dignity and worth that they are due.”

Jackson, Lightfoot, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) joined Fudge at the Concordia news conference.

According to Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, a civil rights group founded by Jackson, new management at the apartments at 13037 S. Daniel Drive has worked on rehabilitating the 297 units through one short-term and one long-term plan under HUD.

“Mold has been mitigated; there has been a pest control mitigation. There’s been any number of repairs done in the apartments and outside the apartments to raise the quality of life,” said Bishop Tavis Grant, national field director for Rainbow/PUSH. “There’s a new security team, new management team and functioning Tenant Resident Council, and we’re moving toward the larger project of renovating the entire property, sometime in mid-2022.”

Tamara Jackson’s unit was one of the units renovated. She’s lived at Concordia Place 14 years in two different units; both had problems. She said without Rev. Jackson’s help, the improvements never would have been made.

“We would still be living the same way,” said Jackson, 43. “It was ran by a cruel management. The owners, they left. They neglected us.”

Jackson now has plastic wall protectors surrounding the bathroom shower, new flooring and her windows have been replaced. And all the mold is gone.

Tamara Jackson opens up her window in her apartment at Concordia Place Apartments in Eden Green, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
Tamara Jackson opens up her new window in her apartment at Concordia Place Apartments in Eden Green. Before the renovations, the windows were covered in mold and she couldn’t see out of them.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Jackson, who spoke to the Sun-Times in March, said she stayed at an Airbnb for nearly a month as the improvements were made, but it was worth it after the “suffering” she and her five children endured.

“It’s a different apartment,” said Jackson. “I feel comfort, and I couldn’t wait to get back here.”

Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter for the Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.