On July 13, Vincent Lane, the new chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), organizes a small meeting with Horner residents to discuss the situation in the basement. After reading Gwen Anderson’s report, he had felt sick and realized that CHA employees care little about residents at Horner, worrying instead only about keeping their jobs. His charisma and warmth lead people to trust him, and he succeeds in giving Horner residents some hope that things might change.
The fact that a member of the CHA recognizes the lack of care and support that has affected Horner over the years confirms that residents’ impressions are not misguided, but reflect an objective situation of neglect. The contrast between CHA employees’ petty desires to keep their job and the harrowing, potentially life-and-death effects they have on an entire community only highlights this injustice.
At the same time, the challenges facing Lane are enormous, since politicians and administrators have known for decades of the situation at public housing in Chicago which, in one report, is compared to “a concentration camp from which [children have] little chance of escape.” Lane soon realizes that the CHA is even more poorly run than he expected, and is particularly moved by residents’ stories about gang violence. His frustration leads him to try to regain control over buildings, but he then discovers that gangs have informants even within the CHA, and that the problem will not be easily resolved. At the Horner meeting, Lane promises to clean up the basement and fix the buildings’ heating, but is still not sure what to do about drugs and violence.
The existence of information about the dreary living conditions in neighborhoods such as Horner only heightens the impression of injustice and neglect. It means that authorities were aware of the situation but either refused or proved unable to do anything about it. In essence, the government has essentially abandoned residents to lead unjust, disadvantaged lives. The ability to change this situation depends not only on building the political will to do so, but on resolving long-standing inefficiencies and security issues within the CHA itself.
When CHA workers begin to try to repair buildings at Horner, which is a direct attack against gangs’ control of buildings, gangs repeatedly destroy the work that has been done and, on one occasion, shoots at Gwen Anderson. In one building, she discovers that gangs have built a tunnel to reach another building to escape the police, which no resident has ever reported to the police. Anderson reports the gangs’ efforts of intimidation, including shooting near the CHA’s local management office, and begins to wear gym shoes so that she can run away if she needs to. The shooting does not stop and, while Pharoah hopes that Lane will take care of their building, lack of funds does not allow the CHA to try to secure all public housing complexes. Pharoah begins to worry about dying and never getting out of the projects.
The CHA’s work at Horner unveils layers of implicit cooperation between residents and gangs—less the result of residents’ open acceptance of gang activity than their fear of gang retaliation. Gangs’ violence against any effort to improve buildings at Horner is pragmatic, since they need some of the buildings’ apartments to maintain their territorial power. This shows how much gangs’ self-interest affects others, as their mere presence hinders efforts to make everyone’s life more comfortable. The CHA’s vulnerability to gang violence also shows that no authority lies beyond the threat of gangs.