Mery Mercado, a resident of Germano-Millgate Apartments on the Southeast Side, sat down with me Tuesday morning to explain her problem.
Mercado reported that child welfare officials who had placed her great-grandchildren in her care in November were now warning that the three kids could be removed from her home as well.
The problem, she explained, was not because she’d done anything wrong, but because the federally subsidized apartment building in which she lives needed urgent repairs.
When it rains, Mercado said, the apartment takes on water that leaks in around the ceiling and windows.
Mercado was beside herself with worry that there would be further disruption for the three young kids if they were moved.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Mercado called me again to report the problem was solved.
The property manager, East Lake Management and Development Co., had promised to move her to another apartment within the 350-unit complex by this weekend, she said.
By then, I had received the same pledge from East Lake CEO Elzie Higginbottom.
“I certainly don’t want anybody to lose any children,” Higginbottom told me.
In addition, the apartment complex owner, Anthony Fusco, told me he had ordered repairs to the building’s roof and tuckpointing for its brick exterior. Fusco said he expects the work will be completed “in a matter of days.”
I probably could have chalked this up to problem solved and moved on.
But Mercado herself told me several times earlier that the problems at Germano-Millgate were bigger than just her own apartment.
“I want people to know. It’s not only me. It’s all of us,” said Mercado, who has been active on the tenants’ council for many years.
I take no credit for solving Mercado’s problem.
If anybody deserves credit, it was the folks at the Metropolitan Tenants Organization and the Alliance of the Southeast who turned up the heat in several ways, circling in me just being one part of their effort.
In fact, Aisha Truss-Miller of MTO and Amalia NietoGomez of ASE have been working behind-the-scenes for several years to solve issues at Germano-Millgate and only took Mercado’s situation public because of its urgency.
Both expressed frustration at the slow pace of rehab work at the apartment complex, which consists of 14 separate buildings in the 8700 block of South Burley, just across from the old U.S. Steel South Works site.
The development is privately owned but receives Section 8 subsidies through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
NietoGomez, who has witnessed Mercado’s water infiltration problems, said a number of other tenants have similar health and safety issues.
“There are major repairs that need to be done, and we need to make sure they are done in a timely manner,” she said.
Truss-Miller said five of Germano-Millgate’s 14 buildings have the worst problems, which include mold.
Fusco, the owner, said the complex operates on a “fairly limited budget” because of the need for 24-hour armed security.
“It doesn’t leave a whole lot of money for other things,” he said.
The project raised an additional $4.5 million last year through refinancing and is making repairs as quickly as possible, he said.
I’m not trying to put blame here on DCFS, but a spokeswoman for the agency, while not commenting specifically on this case, noted it regards “standing water and mold in homes very seriously as mold can proliferate in a day or two and cause serious health problems for children.”
She also stressed that if it did become necessary to remove the children because of the condition of the apartment, DCFS would first try to find temporary housing for the entire family to keep them together, and if that were not possible, it would take the children into care or guardianship temporarily,
Mercado, less confident of that outcome, said she would be sharing the good news about her new apartment with her DCFS case manager right away.Tweets by @MarkBrownCST