tv Ben Austen High- Risers CSPAN April 29, 2018 7:33pm-9:01pm EDT
block of. i am the vice president for research and academic programs here. before i introduce the speakers tonight, i want to say a few words about the newberry for those of you that are new to the library. we are an independent research library that he is free and open to the public. we have about 1.6 million books in our stacks that range widely from strengths in chicago history, genealogy, native american history, math, the renaissance come music, i could go on and on. we have an astonishing and extraordinary collection. our reference team which is always ready to help us put together a guide to the material of public housing and segregation in chicago to help
jumpstart any further interest in tonight's topic. the first floor is under renovation at the moment but i hope that you will come back this fall to see the restored lobby and welcom welcome centerd expandecenter andexpanded booksd exhibition spaces and new public program rooms. all this space is in service of the mission to bring that humanity is alive and enrich our lives about thinking about the difficult questions that we face and about the challenges in our past and present. some of those challenges and ones that we will dive into tonight are held to understand public housing, help to make things of the city is divided and how to think about the slippery concept called community. we've never really been a part
of the same community, that we have been neighbors for decades separated only by a few blocks. but we were separated more by psychic and structural barriers of race and class, something far more difficult to bridge the distance, so to begin to break down the barriers, we are delighted to have been austin and jr fleming on stage tonight. been austin is the author of the recently released high risers in thhigh-rises inthe face of amerc housing published by harper and on sale and they will be signing books afterwards. he was born and raised in chicago as a former high school english teacher and fulbright scholar to south africa and a former editor at harper's magazine. for the past decade and he's been a journalist whose work has appeared in harper's, "new york
times" magazine, gq and the atlantic among others. his book has received praise, and i would like to add it to the accolades this book is a beautifully written biography of a place describing with exceptional clarity the rise and fall. but the heart of the book is the intense stories of human people who lived and breathed the community. they are dolores wilson, kevin cannon, annie and william fleming. jr joins us tonight and today he is a seasoned community leader and human rights defender who actively worked on housing issues with the chicago coalition to protect public housing and the center on housing rights and evictions.
in 200 2009 when they dreaded tk force of the city to investigate its housing conditions after the anti-conviction campaign and currently serves as the executive director of that organization, his mission, and i love this kind is to place the homeless people in people with homes. among several initiatives, the campaign has helped those facing department buildings where they are closed into the community groups to renovation projects to preserve their homes. so, please welcome both then and jr for a discussion of housing as community and homes. thank you. [applause]
we were talking before about the work in his own generosity in helping me and his magnificent book about the chicago public housing which is immensely for me and against his work. i would also agree that the story is that of the newberry and vice versa. i was going to read a couple of paragraphs in the book to introduce jr disses me writing about him he devised a new moneymaking scheme and people in chicago where feeding as well. when the bulls beat the lakers many of the stores eluted into
people were firing off guns and taking whatever guns they could carry a. of several of the shop owners were jordanian. from the middle east country of jordan that is. and by then, in the neighborhood when one of them tries to protect his business brandishing a gun in front of his door, someone took the weapon and beat him with it. what he did is use the unemployment money from the ups job plus a little seed money. a maamen on processed within ine voice, incapable of speaking softly, he was a natural salesman. three for 25 today.
he didn't take no for an answer. he would do anything to get a dollar from their pockets. like any great salesman, but he peddled at all times with himself and in that product he believed that spectacularly. [laughter] when they were in the playoffs in the followinand the followind still weeks away from the second title, he went all in on the repeat merchandise, the hats and shirts to increase repeat of the delivery man who thought the good to the vendor on the road giving $700 for the name and address of the new york distributor and from there he connected to the wholesaler in malaysia and found another supplier that result a holograma hologram sticker that signified they licensed product. see how you from the rolling
sporting goods store with would'vbloodbeams set up on thr. they sold the merchandise on michigan avenue and outside of the north side actual sporting goods store. i will stop there. we had two or three. [laughter] there were 3600 units and it was 15,000 to 20,000 people polled on 70 acres of land a few blocks west of here. it became the most iconic public housing project in the country and you almost never referred to in the media or anywhere the infamous or notorious.
part of my interest in it and i think this is true you can see all of the chicago history so it's not just a story about public housing o about this neighborhood, it is about power, politics, populations and how they are moved and removed, it is the story of the city and even in a bigger sense, the story of public housing rise and fall is a story of our uneasy relationship in the race and in that sense we are talking about not just chicago but every city in america. but as brad said, i tell this big sweep but i also tell it's really small and close up i tell him intimate story and is a picture of four people jr being one of them, it's commits a stof people who struggle to make a home in this environment and
made it proudly and defended it and maybe that is a good way to ask you. as he is porn in public housing at the henry horner homes and whewhenwhen you are young your r moves you to the suburbs for a better life in the south suburbs and then that's sort of as a 17 or 18-year-old you move back and so what was appealing, why did you move back? >> for me the suburbs was like everything was straight and so quiet. i was a 17-year-old and there were a lot of beautiful young
women in the suburb as an athlete you get your choices, but 15 or 20,000 people smiled her sister lived there and i didn't want to leave her alone in public housing sites like i can be free, choose what i want to do with more people like me. the suburbs that was like six or seven families at the time. i had it with other of other fod like me so it was different. it was always a place i felt great. i think i got intoxicated for the first time. it was a freedom. a little child running wild. >> i just read a section about you starting this business and it is you become wildly successful at it.
>> 15,000 people with the suburb i had a lot of business accolades and i looked at the clientele like this is a lot of people here i could sell t-shirts and make a lot of money on the side selling weed or were selling them a lot of products and everybody was a bulls fan. everybody was crazy about tonight and so i knew selling merchandise with open up the opportunity. >> one of the things i like about reading that section especially right here it's about this neighborhood. you told me these stories into going floor to floor to all the high-rises and you knew when people got their checks is the besbest data so so you're also g this neighborhood and, you know, one of the very sort of odd things about it as they such
segregated city is a total anomaly they have this large settlement right here. there's nothing like that in chicago. there's various reasons why that happens so you are also using all of this area all sorts of reasons. is that a part of the appeal of being here? >> it had everything. we had a close proximity to downtown. though i came back and my family grew up there so i would visit every weekend. that is when breakdancing withoubreakdancingwithout it iss away from downtown to. it had a lot of things. a lot of amenities, six or seven blocks away from the lake front.
the experience is that everyone is having living here it's also living there. >> we frequent the coast and those that live on the coast. even my merchandise, everybody and i got to see a lot of change happening during that era there was a feeling of combat of this. like you can go if you are out and start by the time you get the first. this is the type of social network that they offer at that time and it's somewhere that you had a feeling o feeling if i caw even if i'm on my own i can feel
level, you had a lot of folks that were part of that. it was always a sense of family despite the trade. >> i want to talk about what the media portrayed in this kind of nightmare image of how it came into being. it's nearby and its proximity to wealth and access. so, some of that is about the news so if you are in your news truck and want to get a story of poverty you can go a couple of blockblocks or go all the way te south side so they went here and it's sort of kind of creates itself a snowball meaning it is a well-known name and then it feels like news. this place we heard about again that it's happening to.
this was the first moment that it enters this civic and then he like the city was talking about it in the previous months and there were a dozen other police officers killed while on duty. none of them made a big deal. 1981 as many of you may know, they move in as a political stunt. they are allowed to talk about it with that. >> and she lives right here so this becomes at that point even
bigger news in a national story and it becomes their rtp shows about it in good times, there are documentaries about it and plays about it. there's a movie that is in music and a saturday night live skit that comes out after he moves in in the mid-80s and a character is a recurring skit her mother's name is green jackson said this idea that she entered this mount rushmore scary inner-city place. it's a quarter movie that he is
may have a. it was the children and that isn't the case. there were times when there were a lot of beautiful things going on and a lot of families. >> this is fascinating i can almost assure you how much most of the people here are hearing that the. >> so you are talking about terrible things that hav happent
nobody should experience. the security guard and person that you trained to trust. i interviewed her and i know what he says to her at the end. the when i was reporting this book this is something that i wrestled with all the time. writing about jr i could go back to this review in "the new york times" and the sometimes it's even written about for decades the same thing as the other people. that's what it was like there. and it would be sort of one of two things. it would either be we are all
and it was always like you to say something bad and the admiral from the navy. i came from there so there was always like this you have to justify the expect that or one horror story. one they would always get is a that it was always bad and it was negative stories. >> i was at the prison must be talking to inmates at the class of 20 they talked about the book and they said they must blow their mind and the opposite is
true. most people expect that. they are horrific, but that is kind of the expectation that you get. what is surprising to people is i was taking my kid to school and i am a member of the pta and i would go to work and come home and it was just a normal thing. it doesn't have to be greatness that can just be living a normal life. >> the support became overemphasized. you are trained at all of this violence is happening and we joked about this being one of the most mixed communities in america because to the north of us was lincoln park and at the east was the gulf coast and to the west we always felt diverse
that with the myth and reality and then in the news every day that senior citizens were offered the chance to leave and 40% said no so this community of 15000 more that were vacant and with the protest because the police officers are killed is not. pick up garbage for weeks on and so the idea of the place and the reality is very close together. largely low income area now depopulated and full of trash so it is supposed to be that image to feel like a powerful
lesson. >> and then they separated. and then to coin at the vietnam. and that that was such a horrible place we're talking about the same thing as we were talking about today. so today when we look at chicago would look at the same thing of cabrini-green. >> and to go back in time more generally in your work and so
those row houses were built in the 40s and the 50s but public housing started as provided safe housing for people who cannot get in the private market. or didn't have an open system of housing. no other housing was available and even the word project that is such a smaller people talk about moving in and to be in paradise from neighborhoods that were decrepit that felt like a housing with killing them. and then cabrini-green replaces the italian slum. so that builds up because the
factors are all over the river and if you have money it is dirty and smelly so you want to get away from that. a lot of that is temporary housing and with the new amenities. there are many reasons why public housing so the actual decline so chicago starts bleeding population into the suburbs so the city as a whole
and so does public housing of the population is exceedingly full. and with the italian slums and then it feels like there are no jobs and then talk about the killing fields and so that is different. and that is a movie about cabrini-green and then in the 60s before the assassination of martin luther king and really like the main character it was the drudgery of a working-class job. it doesn't feel like there is no opportunity but it is fundamentally different.
i thought i knew what i was doing. >> people often ask me and one really simple answer there is a sense they spanned the whole history and dolores wilson was here who was one of the first residents of the high-rise and in the sense i can tell the beginning all the way to the end that people are good storytellers with an arc in their life. but as a writer and journalist you are terrified that it is true so jr tells me these
and then with cabrini-green i learned it would do something for me. and pancakes because it isn't just myself. so like i said we were just getting started. and so in the fieldhouse so chicago and cape town. that this guy is connected to a group in south africa. it's true. and those partners with claims
there isn't an adequate amount also the exact reason we built that in the first place with the private market we are in the middle the housing crisis in the foreclosure crisis hit black and brown chicago harder than any other part so with the southside neighborhood so they go through the neighborhood they are just pockmarked. so there is a feeling that you are doing something you call it the people's public housing authority and it makes me think that when we talk about public housing we also talk about an idea. so we think about the need for low income housing and the
social safety net and even welfare that should not be pejorative. looking out for everybody with the collective ideas. >> one of the things i think about what the rise and fall of public housing was at that ideas. >> also i used to research public housing. so having the experience in chicago we had got to the point where we said enough is enough maybe we are taking the wrong approach yes master gnome master. please go. so maybe we have the right to
enforce our rights made government do something different and the reason why there is public housing the wpa and the first was even 10000 chicagoans they had a system so they were doing in the 30s because the people sought is their responsibility to do something about what was going on with the government and then an activist wants to talk about cabrini-green and the expectations to show the world that we can tell them so we said why not challenge the world? so i had dropped -- drunk the kool-aid line and sinker.
thinking that they were coming to cabrini-green with public housing but it was a movie. but the people have to do it so it was that sent with the hustle so take it to the next level and then for all of those that think cabrini-green is gone. but we were just getting started. >> i remember with the school had been there for 100 years. and you guys might know that this is oversubscribed and cabrini-green used to be the most crowded school for obvious reasons is now under
subscribed because all the towers are gone so the idea that they would combine to have too many students going to too few. but there was a huge fight about it that cabrini-green families felt it was another step in the takeover and families here we are worried what does it mean to go to that neighborhood? there is very little public housing there they were worried if it was the children's education. >> but a meeting and mother stood up and said something we forgot we have to take care of other people's children. that feels like what roosevelt said what the projects are provided for those and that idea that yes, certainly we
have to keep making that argument time and time again and if you think about it so the fight in the 30s even to get the new deal going to get public housing was huge and there was such backlash so there is still those. >> we have a long way to go i talk about the campaign shifting from the homeless person to the homeowner because in 2009 although facing disposition of public housing also a foreclosure crisis and we gave all biases that they were struggling homeowners so we wanted to incorporate going from the homeless person and every
american renter, homeowner, public housing organizer to put this nation through some type of change in the roosevelt era. >> they were in the affordable housing crisis right now. so there is still public housing and unit nationwide but in terms of just necessary affordable housing for people there is very little. so of all the poor people who would qualify for public housin housing, the lowest earners only one out of five get a subsidies of 85% get nothing and they are on their own. so we take the idea 30% of your income on rent that is on measurement at which point it starts eating into your needs like food and medicine or
education 50% of americans pay at least 30% and one quarter pay half, half of their income in rent. those people cannot afford to live in those inner cities the cities have been inverted again and the reason why what used to be all white in the 80s now it is all black because the wealth has returned to the center of the city that is economic activity and people cannot afford to live there. >> it even from those protest days there were politicians that you live can afford to live in with his global city aspiration if there is no
place for the for folks to live do we at least know that 30% that they have to stay somewhere in chicago? but those that are not on subsidies? and the landlord will see an increase in property taxes. they used to be a model for america. >> three years ago the chicago housing authority opened a lottery applications just to get onto a lottery with section eight and to bring it to a landlord to the private market. >> 280,000 families signed up
but they're only a million families in all of chicago so this is an agency known for dysfunction we just met 40 minutes talking about the bad invitation for public housing so think of this many families. it shows the need to. i to ask one last thing. many cabrini-green families are glad it is gone they have moved on with better lives for sure. but a lot of people still feel very connected with a strip. how do people stay together? >> i have been in retirement for 15 years and now to come
back they have jazz in the park. like you go through high school or college but cabrini-green in the city of chicago they are underrepresented in a matter what area they are from. and we blown up over the back page. they were all types of groups this may not surprise you but every development has facebook pages.
but with social media chicago versus and with public housing and in new york but they always say for cabrini-green. >> that seems like a good spot to continue the conversation with you guys. >> we ask everybody not to ask your question until you have a microphone because this is being recorded. >> with the campaign a long time ago that was leadership
and the parole hearing for that hearing that you mentioned and in with the background of that sniper shooting was the assassination of black leadership there really wasn't shooting a black man on the street but police officers tracking down and killing them. and this is such an intense family -- way they were living i was hoping you could comment but more importantly the leadership disappeared around 74 that that charismatic guy
in 2011 how do you see yourselves going from here to have an influence to have the place on the stage that black leadership needs to change the way you is in the country? >> that is a long one. >> first of all and honor to work the black panthers. so you have to be careful what you say. we want our work to represent us. we wanted to speak for ourselves policy drives a lot of things in this country and our protest for decades and
what we learn they have no choice but to listen. there is no better plan we live in a society today with 200,000 people there are so many struggling to have harmonious habitants from the homeless person to the homeowner. one paycheck away from being homeless. so to describe policy the have to figure this out yourself. not always working in the best interest especially when people are latched on government.
so figure out how to we convince americans that they can wake up and see in the mere every morning? i am happily married with a family. i want to do my part and to get to that level beyond clash and race and gender it is bigger than us and the world that we live in the next generation. >> what type of programs? what do we ensure the next generation will have? >> i'm just a fool light don't know where to begin. and then to take issue with what you said but you talk about cabrini-green as a
2:00 o'clock in the morning and then to have a great time. i am so happy it doesn't just paint us as one monolith. but you don't hear about those positive things to have fat flowers in the front and vegetables in the back and won a certificate to be an excellent gardener. so i just hope people see beyond those negative stories you get one little slip here with so many positive things when you learn values and you
were taken care of. and the first time i smell pine-sol the janitors use to mop the floor from the 15th down the to the first floor with pine-sol which you never hear about that. i also remember the decline even as a kid to get those flyers because cabrini-green was the north shore for the rich white people that for those that were encroaching that wanted that property so i began to see the flyers encouraging us to fight our space and our housing. was a beautiful place and well-kept but i do remember the decline. >> just like mary oliver and those in the community this
also leads to better policy decisions. i had a conversation with mayor emmanuel about this book and we started talking about closures but and then talk about failing schools in a way public housing for decades. so let's knock that down. so this is the same kind of idea to see the hole for its part and not thinking about it what creates what is negative and what is working?
so it is like the horror story that leads to bad policy decision and where we don't actually think through the consequences it is the right thing to do and the true story that also the way to think about the future and the city that we want to become. >> we spoke before. i want to speak about public housing to get to some of the contradictions i was in the coalition to protect public housing with jr.
but i think beginning with reagan and deep cuts in the capital and to continue in an arc the whole concept of the undeserving poor that has led us back in the white house. and the policy directions is amenable is the ideological difference with a building full of people who could help each other or how poor people actually survived in housing is amazing to see. versus now the undeserving poor spoken out ideologically people helping each other is a bad thing because people have
no right or particularly people of color so i think this has been going on and part of what contributed to the decline of public housing is the continued policy decisions that was also the new jim crow and mass incarceration that people say where are all the fathers? increasingly they were being locked up during the same period. i think jeff sessions and the whole thing of coming back to mandatory minimum sentencing and the whole drive in general what i call fascist is
something that i would say we have to fight it on that level on the whole governmental level to see the ideology of people standing together and working together. i want you to speak a little bit because part of the decline of public housing and where that brought us to today. >> poverty wasn't always treated that way and generally in the process and as you said so it is true that it is with republicans but a lot of that policy was under the democrats for a lot of the part when you were living at cabrini-green it was that policy with a lot
of these ideas went mainstream and often well-intentioned ideas are not thought out but public policy so even think in 1984 we have to do something about the cities. >> so you remember 1994 the omnibus crime bill and in 24 hours chicago housing authority with the state police the ba and atf and fbi the chicago police cook county police went to every public housing building in the city of chicago removed every mail from the household over the age of 13? every mail was removed facedown into the street so you have three gang factors
and they wanted to put metal detectors in the buildings it was civil rights in the aclu but none of this stopped what happened you could have caused 43 yes we regretting in child was murdered but this should not be the response and that is bad policy. light coming from the suburbs showing what america really was that day. like i have nowhere to go but i can't because i have a male over the age of 13 that policy could have led to a lot of bloodshed. >> think about conspiracy theories i have a lot of
conversations with people who believe people are plotting in rooms to remove all the black people so they can gentrify that again and one of the things i think about is those politicians and policymakers they are not geniuses. they don't think three steps ahead. so just like bureaucrats go when that work within the system and do their job. in the same way it takes to change a system you have to think doing bad or doing good so as a consequence where it happens slowly but in terms of plotting it out ten moves ago i don't think that's true.
>> they always said he somewhere close so across the country for people are in close proximity to waterfronts or universities or to the metropolitan area they will remove you know matter what city you are in. people say starbucks i cannot even imagine that is an indicator for displacement or you talk about wanting to build out in the city this is what attracted developments waterfronts and universities to the metropolitan area. they don't care where the people go. there is no regards. and then to say okay you do a lot of international stuff but you do realize there is that
territory of palestinian territory so you do realize this will cause some type of conflic conflict? if you put them into one zip code? >> a lot of times we think of the average of the city as a whole it does really well like chicago is healthier than it has been in decades or maybe forever but that average does it mean anything if you are in neighborhoods where you are isolated or in concentrated poverty and the wealth is held by such a small number with a small middle class. that is a poor indicator of how the majority of people are living. >> that is a little long but
as another person who is in the book i have something to say. >> i stay there about 50 years of five children ages one through eight when we moved in we moved into the white building red. i'm sorry the white brick and when we moved in it was brand-new. i just loved it fireproof and grass and flowers you could come out to sit and enjoy yourself but management he would say what you think is wrong?
because management is in taking care of it. i had called housing because one of my cabinet doors one nail had come out and it was hanging. they have to do something and they would not come. my set i have a 1-year-old and is this door falls you will have a lawsuit but they were out there immediately. so they took it off and put on the floor and left. they didn't want to fix it up they do not take care of their responsibilities and they would let it deteriorate and then you said you can't tear down steel or concrete but then to say it was our responsibility but if something goes on said when you call them then they say if
this is broke people were trying to get attention from housing and when he asked me what do you think? i said managerial because that was a big word. [laughter] is managerial because are not doing their job. but that is the truth. so they wanted to tear down cabrini-green and agreeing section but because the building i was in we were a corporation. what is it called? ceo of some little outfit. [laughter] that because we had signed a contract that we would be
managing our own building on the south end of chicago avenue they tore down and tore down they said i don't know what happened but i'm so glad mr. fleming is here but all these addresses and they would not let us stay there and it was a brand-new school in fact we had to send some of our students over because they were talking about the enrollment was so low that you know what happened in the end? now stiller has children and then pick up they are. all of that is true. i still don't know what happened but everywhere i
checked there was a black name it was gone. the school right across the street then to go out your house and there is the school that every transplant was done. so we all have that same story to tell i don't mean alive that i mean the truth so they took the names and made it drake. i said whose drake? please to have a place for people down in the tribune building with people working in that area to come and sit with her lunch it was all
around the stone and i said they are trying to get us out of chicago to take away our names they have closed 50 schools already and the health center is not just one person but everybody, each person so we all have a part to play and we have a bigger part to play because i'm tired of seeing people out in the cold with nowhere to go. and one woman had a fistful of vouchers she had to go get five or six aldermen to sign off on them so i don't act
like i know too much but when i go by the jazz enter in the cold they are nowhere to go and you are sitting up. all these boucher's that the alderman has to sign off on that. >> now with the vouchers the alderman has to agree to come to their community so you are absolutely right. >> but now they want to tear down where i'm at now. and it's so tiny i sit in the living room on the couch it is very small and many years ago
they said the structure of cabrini-green was even better than karel sandberg i love cabrini-green. there was a did you hear the shooting? do you believe everything you read in the paper? they are putting all that garbage in the paper they don't even want the identity of people would rather say they live in the projects than to say cabrini-green but you cannot talk about people because the majority are good people. those that do wrong it made me feel bad knowing that they were giving us a bad name. when people gathering around
to help with the news media that may or whatever you tell them to print that is what comes into your home. my brother said i will not come visit you anymore from what i read in the newspaper. i don't have to read it i lived there and don't believe everything you read. especially on tv. but they don't say it because they think they will get shot but that is a coincidence because i was on the 14th floor he was on the first floor so coming home from work a few white guys said that
looks funny to me (with you being barefaced and you want to talk about what's going on where i live? shut your mouth. [laughter] but until the day they passed away they never came back to visit me at cabrini-green. and that makes me think about a lot of children i was out there just like people today to tear it down and make a move. they would say yes. terry down with you. but what i wasn't aware of
really what was going on with the news media then all those people where are they going? is the building that i was with cabrini-green and had to be the mayor. for the advancement office we had everything except water and electricity. so they came into the computers they just threw everything out. >> that is when the city decides to terminate the resident and the city was
moving in a different direction. and not fixing up the properties getting ready for demolition saying it was in disrepair. >> you have a nice gathering and your book is wonderful. [applause] even just hearing her saying the word housing, housing, housing a fundamental idea that everybody has a place to live. not public housing but housing. thank you very much. [applause]