Chicago officials schooled city in clean-sweep tactics 2 months of planning included trip to Ill.

June 02, 1993|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,Staff Writer

Yesterday's sweep of a decrepit high-rise in the Flag House Courts complex was inspired by the Chicago Housing Authority, which has cleaned out 170 public housing buildings over the past five years, purging them of trash and drug dealers.

Baltimore's two months of planning also took 10 city housing officials to Chicago to see how the experts do it.

At the invitation of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Baltimore housing employees flew to Chicago for a three-day training session by Chicago housing officials. Federal officials also paid for the trip.

Baltimore officials learned how to plan the blitz that brought together police, social workers, maintenance crews and housing inspectors to transform the the 37-year-old high-rise from one of the most dangerous buildings in Baltimore into a livable home for 84 families.

Susan Pierce, Flag House Courts' manager said she first heard details of a sweep when Chicago housing officials came to Baltimore to brief her and other workers.

"They showed us videos and we just sat there with hopes. It was hard to believe all this could go on at one time," she said yesterday, as hundreds of workers repaired the building and replaced drug needles and weeds from the front yard with flowers and new sod.

Later, when she and others went to Chicago, they were trained in the intricacies of mobilizing so many workers from all parts of government at the same time.

Advice from Chicago housing officials ranged from the number of trucks Baltimore might need for the sweep to the legal ramifications of installing security systems that exclude many visitors.

David Tyus, a HUD official from Washington, said his agency has financed such trips to Chicago for 10 other housing authorities wanting to begin their own clean-sweep programs -- including Yonkers, N.Y., and Bridgeport, Conn.

Baltimore officials also visited Potomac Gardens, a Washington, D.C., housing project that was recently secured with an 8-foot wrought-iron fence and a state-of-the art surveillance system to keep away outsiders, Mr. Tyus said.

In Chicago, Kristin Anderson, director of external affairs for the housing authority, said the authority began the intensive effort in 1988 when "it was clear that unless we could provide basic stability for the families, we couldn't do anything else."

She said the first sweep took place at a housing project called Rockwell Gardens on Chicago's west side. The building was secured by police and a guard was set up at one entrance to keep outsiders away.

"We provide occupants some basic assurance about who's going to come in and out of a building. It's impossible for a community to thrive if the parents and children are worried about basic survival," said Ms. Anderson.

She said the sweeps have kept many housing projects clean and safe, but not all.

In the buildings that are kept safe and clean, "I think it's had an enormous impact," she said, explaining that crime levels diminished significantly in many buildings.

Several tenant organizations have also emerged after sweeps to fight crime, she said.

After one sweep, "One woman said, 'It's the first time I've been able to sit out on my porch,' " recalled Ms. Anderson.

In Baltimore yesterday, Maj. Cornelius J. Hairston III of the Housing Authority Police, said he hoped the sweep will "give residents back their building in good clean order."

Ms. Pierce saw the building she managed in a new light. "It feels wonderful because this has long been needed. This is a holistic approach to the problem," she said.

She hopes the transformation will also bring jobs for tenants and maybe even a day-care center "right in this building."

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