Altgeld Gardens Homes (Chicago, Illinois)
|Altgeld Gardens Homes|
2009 photograph of the Altgeld Gardens housing project.
Bounded by 130th and 134th Streets and S. Doty and St. Lawrence Avenues |
|Status||1,541 units (renovated)|
|Chicago Housing Authority|
Altgeld Gardens Homes is a Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) public housing project located on the far south side of Chicago, Illinois, United States. It sits on the borderline of Chicago and Riverdale, Illinois. The residents are 97% African-American according to the 2000 US Census. Built between 1944–1945 with 1,498 units, the development consists primarily of two-story row houses spread over 190 acres (0.77 km2).
It was built by the federal government (Department of Housing and Urban Development) to satisfy the need for improved housing for African American veterans returning from World War II. In 1956, the project was transferred to the Chicago Housing Authority. Located in an industrial area on Chicago's far South side, Altgeld was named after John Peter Altgeld, an Illinois governor of the 1890s. As one of the first public housing developments ever built in the United States, it has been determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
In the early 21st century, 3,400 residents live in the Altgeld / Murray complex. This complex includes public schools within its borders, and the Housing Authority has maintenance staff, on-site social services, and medical facilities for residents. Altgeld Gardens' northern boundary is 130th Street, its southern boundary is 134th Street, the eastern boundary is the campus of George Washington Carver Military Academy (formerly known as George Washington Carver Area High School) a public 4-year public high school and the Beaubien Woods Forest Preserve of Cook County.
Numerous manufacturing plants, steel mills, landfills and waste dumps—once bordered the 190 acre Altgeld Gardens site. The residents have a growing concern about the number of deaths annually from cancer and other diseases that may be related to environmental hazards of their industrial neighborhood. In addition, Altgeld Gardens was constructed at a time when asbestos was widely used in construction materials such as insulation, tile and other products. It has been found to be hazardous and in 1980, residents organized a grassroots campaign in the project to advocate for its removal from the complex flats.
US President Barack Obama, then a local community organizer, participated in this campaign. He wrote about it at length in his book Dreams From My Father. Altgeld Gardens is located in one of the most dense concentrations of potentially hazardous pollution sources in North America. Many of the landfills that surround the project are unregulated, and some are still active. Since most of these landfills as well as many industrial plants are located along the waterways surrounding the area, 11 miles (18 km) of the 18 miles (29 km) of rivers and lakes surrounding Altgeld Gardens have been assessed as having water quality unfit for human consumption and recreation. Many local residents continue to fish in these waters, increasing their exposure to hazards by eating local fish.