The Crusader Newspaper Group

Housing options bleak for displaced East Chicago residents

By Carmen M. Woodson-Wray, Gary Crusader

Many of the residents in an East Chicago housing complex are still searching for housing during the holiday season. It has been at least six months since approximately 1,000 residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex were forced to relocate. The land on which they were living is contaminated with lead and arsenic.

The NAACP Branches have been addressing many of the problems within the neighborhoods. Charlene Low, who is the East Chicago Housing Authority Coordinator for the NAACP, works with the city on its rights. She has assisted over 300 families out of the 1,000 with the majority being relocated within the Northwest Indiana area. Some, but not all, received vouchers to assist in their moving.

According to Stephen Mays, president of the Gary Branch of the NAACP and Charlene Mahone, president of the East Chicago branch of the NAACP, the cleanup has been an on-going process. Mays said, “There is a fence up around the area because some of the residents have yet to leave the area. They have no place to go. Many are trapped and can’t afford to move.”

They face very few good options. The rental market is already tense. When an apartment is available it is often situated in a more dangerous neighborhood, which makes matters even more difficult. Potential landlords in better areas do not readily want to accept tenants who receive federal rent subsidies – known as Section 8 vouchers. Most West Calumet residents are dependent on Section 8 to help them afford a residence. The search is made more difficult during the winter months.

Soil tests conducted in the complex registered contamination for lead and arsenic as high as 228 times the level that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials consider hazardous to children.

Mays said contamination has affected those who have stayed. Many residents were tested for various health ailments associated with being contaminated by lead exposure. Their exposure has caused a variety of cancers, nervous disorders and MS. Children have been affected with learning, growth and developmental disabilities. It has also been a loss to residents who were employed in that area as well, because they had to seek not only housing, but jobs also.

According to resource agencies, communities in the Northwest Indiana area are facing the largest relocation of families in the region since Chicago officials set out to demolish 25,000 public housing units nearly two decades ago.

The local Department of Housing and Urban Development indicated 20 of the 332 households have found new homes. These numbers are not encouraging during this holiday season for those in need.

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