NewsPublic Affairs / August 7, 2017

HUD Secretary Carson Visits Former East Chicago Housing Complex

Article origination IPBS-RJC
HUD Secretary Ben Carson speaks at a press conference following a meeting with residents in East Chicago. - Annie Ropeik/IPB

HUD Secretary Ben Carson speaks at a press conference following a meeting with residents in East Chicago.

Annie Ropeik/IPB

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson says officials will work to help displaced families from a lead-contaminated public housing complex in East Chicago.

Carson met privately Monday with some residents and local lawmakers near the now-empty West Calumet Housing Complex. Gov. Eric Holcomb, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, U.S. Sens. Joe Donnelly and Todd Young, and East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland joined the discussion.

Despite what he called the inconveniences faced by the complex’s nearly 1,200 uprooted residents, Carson says the relocation was necessary to keep them safe.

“That’s been done here. It’s been done in a good way,” Carson says. “Are there better ways to do it? Probably. And are we learning what they are? Absolutely. And will we use those to try to prevent those kinds of problems in the future? We absolutely will.”

Carson says the handling of the situation could be a model for other housing around the country that may have been built on contaminated ground before officials knew better.

“As long as we understand what the implications are now and we devote appropriate attention to it, I think we can resolve this issue and, as I said, learn from it, so this doesn’t happen again,” Carson says.

But former housing complex resident Tara Adams says she felt it was only a model of what not to do. She was in Carson’s briefing, and passed along a list of community demands for health and financial follow-ups with displaced residents.

“You can talk, you can listen, but I want to see what you’re going to do,” Adams says.

Adams lives in Hobart now, and other officials in the briefing seemed more focused on how to help her and other former residents return to East Chicago.

U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly says he wants to help the city rebuild housing to replace the old West Calumet complex, so displaced families can return.

“We’re gonna work every day to get better at this, to have a chance for all of them to come back and have their hopes and dreams come true here in East Chicago,” Donnelly says.

Officials say they’ll provide more health and financial follow-up for residents, but didn’t offer specifics. Donnelly says they’re now focused on helping East Chicago rebuild housing to replace the old West Calumet Complex.

HUD has said it probably won’t rebuild housing on the West Calumet site, even once it’s cleaned up. The agency hasn’t moved forward on approving a plan to tear down the complex.

East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland has said he won’t decide on how to redevelop it until it’s been demolished and the EPA has cleaned up its contaminated soil.

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