Protesters return to occupy CHA-owned house in Humboldt Park
The agency is investigating after a management company forced activists who’d been at the house since January to leave the property.
The Chicago Housing Authority is looking into how one of its private property management firms treated protesters occupying a vacant CHA-owned house in Humboldt Park.
Two protesters, occasionally joined by other supporters, have been in the house at 1629 N. Washtenaw Ave. since January.
They were forced to leave July 26 but returned within days.
Friday, the protesters held a news conference to call attention to the issue of CHA properties, like the one they’re in, which could be used for housing but instead sit empty.
Protesters recorded video the day officials from Hispanic Housing Development Corp. forced them to leave the premises and then changed the locks.
“We have the right to due process,” one occupant says through a window as someone from the property management firm approaches the door.
“My due process is, I’m going to get you out of here right now. That’s my due process,” the person replied, before banging on the door.
In an email to the Sun-Times, Michael J. Keating, a spokesman for Hispanic Housing Development Corp., said the firm “does not believe this is how anyone should be treated” and “does not condone this type of behavior under any circumstances.”
Keating continued: “This matter is being thoroughly investigated, and the appropriate action will be immediately taken.”
The CHA also issued a statement, saying the agency “takes these issues seriously and follows all appropriate legal processes to remove squatters from our property. We have viewed the video of the encounter ... and have concerns about how this situation was handled by our third-party property manager, and this incident is under investigation.”
Wilson Mather-Glass and Kayde Williams have been in the house nearly all year, joined occasionally by other supporters.
“There’s a number of houses around Humboldt Park that are good public housing but just dilapidated due to neglect,” Mather-Glass, 25, said Friday.
“We wanted to bring attention to that and also just needed someplace to live.”
Protesters said they made the house livable in an afternoon with just a little work that included replacing a toilet. All in all, it cost just a few hundred dollars. They have not paid rent but say they had been paying for gas, electricity and internet.
“This house was actually in really good shape,” Williams said.
They wouldn’t say how they got back inside after being kicked out.
A small crowd gathered outside the house for the Friday news conference. Protesters set up a food distribution table, as they do most days. They made banners and talked to reporters.
Williams moved a piano out of the house with the help of another demonstrator, intending to lead the group in a few songs.
“This is the biggest symbol we have that we live here,” said Williams, a 39-year-old teacher.
The crowd included Humboldt Park resident Christian Chiakulas, 30, who heard about the demonstration from a friend.
That the housing authority has “thousands and thousands of people on a waiting list while they have these thousands of properties around is something I don’t think people should accept,” said Chiakulas, a Chicago Public Schools substitute teacher. “It’s time that people who live in the neighborhood, Chicago residents, homeless residents work together to start addressing this ourselves.”
Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) also spoke at the scene.
“They put in the sweat equity to make it livable,” the alderman said. “I’m out here to show my support and try to figure out the path forward, the resolution that keeps people in their housing.”
Before the press conference had begun, officials from the property management company drove up, then left without exiting their vehicle. Later, police arrived.
Cmdr. Elizabeth Collazo, who was raised in Humboldt Park, said no one would be removed from the property because “that’s between CHA and Cook County.”
However, she said, they would begin arresting demonstrators if they did not leave, citing a law against picketing in residential areas.
Before police left, the two sides squared off and began shouting over one another. The protesters asked if the police intended to evict the occupants after dispersing the crowd. They called officers fascists. Officers shouted back they were there to protect the rights of citizens.
After officers issued three dispersal orders during the two-hour standoff, the crowd disbanded and the officers left.
Inside the house, Mather-Glass watched from a window, saying, “We’re going to stay and wait for them to file a lawful eviction.”
Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago 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 and West sides.