February 16, 2017

Gov. Holcomb To Visit East Chicago Amid Relocation Concerns

Article origination IPBS-RJC
Residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex, now largely abandoned, have until March 31 to find new housing. - Nick Janzen/IPBS

Residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex, now largely abandoned, have until March 31 to find new housing.

Nick Janzen/IPBS

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb will visit East Chicago on Friday to discuss his disaster declaration for the city’s ongoing lead contamination crisis.

Meanwhile, lawyers for residents being displaced by the contamination say the order doesn’t properly address the biggest concerns.

In a letter to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Kate Walz, an attorney with the Shriver Center on Poverty Law in Chicago, says the governor’s order misrepresents a March 31 deadline for families to move out of West Calumet Housing Complex, the site of some of the worst contamination.

Walz negotiated a settlement late last year that requires federal authorities to approve that deadline, which they’ve not yet done. But Walz says the city – and now the state – have ignored that requirement by telling residents they’d be involuntarily moved to another East Chicago neighborhood if they couldn’t find housing by the end of March.

“We know this from other involuntary relocations in public housing, families don’t make successful moves when they feel rushed and panicked,” says Walz.

The governor also wants the state to find a new social service contractor to help residents move. But Walz says they already have one, approved by residents: Chicago-based Housing Choice Partners started work just this week.

“Again, it’s a well-intentioned idea to say, ‘let’s get another nonprofit in to help with relocation,’” says Walz. “My response is, ‘we have that, we just got that, I think we finally have the right people.”

Instead, she hopes the governor will set up a fund to reimburse residents for moving costs that aren’t currently being covered. And she hopes he’ll encourage local officials not to spend time and money this spring on involuntary relocation of any of the families that remained in the West Calumet Housing Complex.

According to HUD, 124 families still lived in the complex as of Feb. 9.

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