By David Denson, Gary Crusader
U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Dr. Ben Carson was in East Chicago on Aug. 7 to meet with residents of the West Calumet housing complex.
In 2016, the city of East Chicago applied to HUD to demolish the complex and submitted a plan to HUD in September to relocate the residents. The East Chicago Housing Authority and HUD ordered over 1,000 people from the complex to be relocated from the area that contained a USS Lead Superfund Sight. The action was taken after numerous complaints from residents about lead contamination.
Following the evacuation of the complex, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began the removal of lead and arsenic from the contaminated soil at the site. The 1,000 people consisted of 300 families. Out of the 300, 62 families remained in East Chicago; 46 transferred to the Gary Housing Authority; 40 to the Hammond Housing Authority; 25 moved to Chicago; and 70 moved into the Cook County Housing Authority.
East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland, Rep. Pete Visclosky, Sens. Todd Young (R-Bloomington) and Joe Donnelly (D-South Bend), and Gov. Eric Holcomb joined Carson at the meeting.
Carson said he wanted to learn first-hand from the residents about what they had been experiencing. He said the focus of his concern was the health effects on the children living in the area.
He went on to say that he, along with other public and government officials, have come together to address the concerns the residents have regarding the problems.
While admitting to some of the problems created by the relocation, Donnelly vowed to continue to work on improvements, saying they will continue to work with the residents.
Donnelly, along with Young and Visclosky, has been in contact with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requesting long-term monitoring for the residents. During the meeting, Carson was presented with a list of demands from members of Calumet Lives Matter, the Community Strategy Group and East Chicago/ Calumet Coalition Community Advisory Group.
Among their demands, the groups are calling on HUD to make funds available for recovery efforts of residents affected by the problem; thereby, giving residents first options to any new housing developed in the city. Requests have been made regarding the availability of community development block grant money to assist residents in their relocation efforts and for a full environmental review of the former site before any demolition takes place.
The groups have given HUD a timeline to respond to their demands. While Carson did not indicate whether HUD would honor any of the demands, Visclosky and Donnelly indicated that they were open to seeing that some of the demands are addressed.