Owners Under Spot Light as Violence Rages on at Parkway Gardens

At a worn-out playground in the Parkway Gardens low-income housing complex, Mykita Stadium, a high school student, kept a close eye on her 4-year-old sister as she played in the fading daylight.

It was a warm February day, with temperatures near 70 degrees, yet just a handful of the more than 1,000 children who live in the historic development on Woodlawn’s western edge came out to play.

The reason? “It’s violence — people just want to shoot and kill for no reason,” Stadium said just before taking her sister inside ahead of the darkness. “I leave at an early time if I want to go outside, or I go in the car, or I have my mom pick me up.”

Stadium wasn’t exaggerating. In a little more than five years, 41 shootings have shattered the calm along the blocks that line the publicly subsidized brick apartments, most recently killing an 11-year-old girl, Takiya Holmes. Last August, Nykea Aldridge, the cousin of Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade, was shot to death while pushing her newborn daughter in a stroller.

Unlike Chicago’s notorious housing projects of the past — the now-demolished Cabrini-Green or Robert Taylor Homes, for instance — this complex is not owned and operated by a government agency. Rather, divisions of a New York-based private developer better known for its luxury towers downtown, Related Companies, own and manage a complex that has become a symbol of the violence wracking the city.

The complex is jointly owned by Related Affordable and Related Midwest, both divisions of their parent, and is run by Related Management.

With pressure building on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to bring the city’s gun violence under control, the private owners of this complex are feeling the heat, too.

Neighborhood leaders are asking why a real estate firm with a $20 billion-plus portfolio of properties cannot do more to help its desperately poor tenants, who have been buffeted by violence. Related is led by Stephen M. Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins and a significant donor to an Emanuel campaign fund.

“Given the fact that (Related) gets federal dollars for rents, I’d suggest they do something to enhance individual lives, and that’s what they are not doing at all,” said the Rev. Corey Brooks, pastor of New Beginnings Church, just south of the development. “I believe you can be a business owner and make money and at the same time care about the lives of individuals who live on your property.”

But officials from Related said that the answers are not so easy — and that they have supported after-school programs and playgrounds, which are investments in their tenants, who face a lot of the same challenges that plague other crime-infested neighborhoods.

“Parkway Gardens is without a doubt a very challenging property,” said John Kennedy, senior vice president of Related Management. “We’ve worked, since the time of acquisition, to provide safe and decent housing for our residents here.”

On Friday, after meeting with an official from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Related announced a series of security improvements, including limiting and redesigning entry points to the complex, better lighting, more fencing and cameras and beefed-up security staffing. The measures were the culmination of months of planning, the company said.

“We have worked closely with the Chicago Police Department and other City agencies as well as HUD to plan and effectuate these changes,” the company said in a statement.

HUD officials stressed the need for better security at Friday’s meeting. “HUD places resident safety as its utmost concern,” the agency said in a statement. Continue Reading

Article Org: Chicagotribune.com

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