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Housing Mon Sep 23 2013

"High Rise Stories" Provides Glimpse Into Life of Chicago Housing Authority Residents

High Rise Stories: Voices from Chicago Public HousingTo those who did not live in the Chicago Housing Authority's infamous high rises they were simply tall buildings you stayed away from. The crimes that occurred around the high rises were stories many Chicagoans simply read about in the newspaper or heard about on TV.

The high rise buildings of the CHA housed thousands of people from the 1950s until 2011. In High Rise Stories: Voices from Chicago Public Housing, edited by Audrey Petty and the latest book from Voice of Witness, allows readers to get a glimpse inside of the high rises through oral histories collected from former residents.

Throughout this book is an overwhelming feeling of sadness due to the world the residents lived in. The first narrator in the book, Dolores Wilson, lost her son after he was shot standing in front of a church in 1991. Wilson was also required to leave her apartment in Cabrini-Green in such haste she had lo leave quite a few belongings behind. Other former residents interviewed for the book experienced police corruption or the effect of gangs moving into the area.

There's also a look at how various policies regarding crime affect the people interviewed for the book. Chandra Bell, a former Cabrini-Green resident, now lives in a mixed-income development where a single criminal charge can result in eviction. For Bell, she has to deal with the fact that due to her son being charged with a drug crime he can never visit her due to this policy. Other former residents interviewed in the book lack access to various forms of assistance due to being convicted for various crimes.

Amidst the soul-crushingly sad stories from the former residents is the sense that to all of these people the high rise buildings they lived in truly was home to them. There were problems--multiple narrators mention elevators breaking down and stairwells turned into public bathrooms--but this was home for these people. At one point, Wilson, who lived in Cabrini-Green for 53 years, discusses her new residence and says "It's okay. It's not Cabrini [...] I like to see the sun set, but from where I am now, I can't see anything set."

Petty has assembled a fantastic book with plenty of background information in the appendix section and terrific illustrations of the buildings, done by Julien Lallemand. This moving and eye-opening book is a valuable book to anyone curious about the class divides in Chicago and public housing, but it is also a book Chicagoans should read to understand the struggles other Chicagoans face.

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