Former residents of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green were thrown into a system that increasingly leaves the poor to fend for themselves.
On a December morning in 1989, amid a snowstorm, Annie Ricks let her third-oldest son, Cornelius, stay home from middle school. For months, she and her eight children had been sleeping on the floors of relatives’ apartments or in the lobby of the Cook County Hospital. She had lived on Chicago’s West Side, within the same few blocks, since moving there as a 10-year-old from a segregated mill town in Alabama. But her West Side apartment and every belonging in it had burned in a fire. Without a fixed address, she stopped receiving the public-assistance checks that had helped stretch what she earned in a factory molding plaster figurines.
When she considered the fact of her predicament, it simply didn’t make sense: At 33, she’d been providing since she was a teenager. Her children were well fed and neatly dressed, their hair combed and cut and braided. The girls as well as the boys played basketball, and Ricks volunteered in their classrooms and attended their games. She had never before considered public housing and knew nothing of Cabrini-Green’s reputation — that it had entered the pantheon of proper names of the scariest places in urban America. But she had put in an application and couldn’t wait any longer. She told Cornelius they were going to get their apartment that day and walk the seven miles to Cabrini-Green in the snow.
Ricks was shown a 15-story plain box of a high-rise, a giant filing cabinet with a facade the color of cigarette-stained teeth. The elevators were out of order, the stairwells dark. Built in stages beginning in the 1940s on Chicago’s Near North Side, Cabrini-Green consisted of barracks-style rowhouses and 23 towers. When Ricks arrived, more than a third of the 3,600 units were vacant. The Chicago Housing Authority said it couldn’t afford to do the repairs to ready them for occupancy, and not just at Cabrini. The C.H.A. had a stock of 42,000 apartments, but the number in use had fallen to fewer than 33,000.
The vacant fifth-floor apartment Ricks entered looked like a crypt. Plywood covered the windows. The kitchen cabinets dangled or were missing altogether. Ricks surveyed the surroundings, counting four bedrooms. There was a full bathroom on one side of the unit and a half bath on the other. The front room was large enough for a dining table and a sofa, and it was connected to the kitchen, which (she checked) had a working stove and refrigerator. The ceilings were high, the walls made of seemingly indestructible cinder block. Ricks had freckles that wandered the bridge of her nose and reached her high cheekbones, which now sharpened to points as she smiled. What she saw looked like a home.
Ricks lived at Cabrini-Green for the next 21 years. She worked as a teacher’s aide in the local schools that most of her own (eventual) 13 children attended. She babysat, ran an after-school program and served free lunches out of the field house by her high-rise. She moved her aging mother in with them, and Ricks’s grown children found jobs in construction, home health care, retail and at a new residential complex built atop the old Madison Street “skid row,” an area refashioned into the “West Loop.” Ricks didn’t leave Cabrini after one of her nephews was hit with several bullets through her apartment window — his heart stopped twice before he survived. She stuck it out as the city demolished every other public-housing high-rise in Chicago not reserved for the elderly, including all the towers at Cabrini-Green save hers. After the start of this civic remodeling, in 1999, Mayor Richard M. Daley said that breaking up the severe concentrations of poverty of high-rise public housing would finally imbue long-neglected neighborhoods with vitality; the mostly black residents who lived there in social and economic isolation would be able to reap the rewards of the resurgent city. “I want to rebuild their souls,” Daley declared. But Ricks believed her soul was doing all right on its own. She refused to go, in 2010, even as every neighbor remaining in her building took whatever replacement housing was offered them. She outlasted them all. “I’m the last woman standing,” Ricks liked to declare.
Ricks held firm to a belief that if she followed the rules, if she kept up her part in an agreement, then she was entitled to all that was promised her. Her three youngest children — Reggie, Rose and Raqkown — were still on her lease, along with two of her nearly 40 grandchildren. She wasn’t in her apartment illegally, she contended. She paid her rent on time. No one caught her with drugs or guns. So how could the C.H.A. just assign her a new unit? But the city took her to court, and a federal judge gave her 10 days to vacate the building. That was that. “I had to go,” she conceded. “Either that or be homeless again.”
As it had the day she arrived at Cabrini-Green, snow covered the ground on the December morning in 2010 that she left. A crowd of reporters jostled the last high-rise tenants of what had been the city’s and the country’s most well-known public-housing project. “An inglorious end to an infamous era,” as one news outlet put it. Another described Cabrini-Green as “the housing development that came to symbolize the squandered hope of them all.” Deonta Ricks lugged a cardboard box filled with his mother’s most prized possessions: the trophies he and his siblings had won for basketball tournaments and perfect attendance and the one he was awarded for being valedictorian of the school that was still there, an empty field away. The Cabrini-Green neighborhood, only a few blocks west of the ritzy Gold Coast, had a new library and police station, new shopping and upscale housing. The school, too, had been renamed and given a makeover, and it now served only those students who tested in, ranking it among the best elementaries in Illinois. Rose, then 17, rolled a suitcase with a “Route 66” sticker on it. “I’ve been here basically my whole life,” she said. “Like it’s hard leaving when you’ve got so much memories of it. You knew everyone. You felt safe.”
When the trophies were stowed and the furniture loaded onto a truck, Annie Ricks ducked into a sedan the same off-white color as her high-rise. The car spun its wheels on the snow and gained traction, and she was gone.
The fate of public housing in America — its rise, much of it in the form of towers like Cabrini-Green, and its fall as those towers came down — is the story of urban poverty as an unsteady political priority. In his first year as president, in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt created the federal Housing Division, as part of the Public Works Administration. The P.W.A. built the country’s first 51 public-housing developments, including three in Chicago. By then the shortcomings of the for-profit real estate market were evident in eviction riots, in sprawling homeless encampments and in cities overflowing with mile after mile of cheap, decrepit frame dwellings. In segregated black neighborhoods, where families were excluded from competing for housing on the open market, the conditions were more dire. Without government intervention in some form, private developers and landlords were never going to build or maintain anywhere near enough homes for the urban poor. Like other New Deal assistance programs — relief for farmers, aid to senior citizens through Social Security, food stamps — public housing treated poverty as a widespread social and economic injustice that the country was obligated to right. The subsidy was also intended to help jump-start the economy by rebuilding moribund cities and creating jobs. In 1937, Congress passed more extensive legislation, establishing a federal housing agency; Chicago and other cities formed their own housing authorities to operate the program locally. “I see one-third of a nation ill housed, ill clad, ill nourished,” Roosevelt announced that year. “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
Then, as now, the idea of government-run housing was maligned as anticapitalist and socialist; it clashed with a national ethos wrapped up in visions of the frontiersman and the self-made entrepreneur. When the Housing Act of 1937 was being debated, it was opposed by real estate trade groups and property owners’ associations, by builders, suppliers, the U.S. Chambers of Commerce and the departments of the Interior and the Treasury. Although the subsidy was reserved for only stable families with modest incomes — the “deserving poor” — the ceiling on what qualifying residents could earn was said to discourage hard work, acting as a sap on initiative and pluck. Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” dramatized the backlash against Roosevelt’s call for a deeper social contract of shared responsibility: The hero of the 1943 novel is an architect of a public-housing complex who becomes enraged when he returns from a trip to discover that his bare-bones high-rise has been compromised to include “the expense of incomprehensible features” like balconies, a gymnasium, extra doorways and decorative brickwork. In an act portrayed as a valiant defense of his convictions, he dynamites the entire building. Maybe most telling, the same Depression-era legislation that funded the first public-housing complexes also created the federally insured private home loan. With this revolution in home financing, buyers were able to put down as little as 10 percent of a house’s cost and pay off their mortgages in small increments over an unprecedented 30 years. Even today, the federal government devotes three times as much each year to mortgage-interest deductions and other subsidies to the speculative real estate market — essentially public housing for homeowners — than to the entire annual budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The first public-housing developments were often simple and unadorned brick rowhouses or duplexes. They were required to be built to minimum standards, so as not to compete with the private rental market, and the overall populations were diverse, in part because federal rules dictated that public housing couldn’t change the existing racial makeup of a neighborhood. In the 1950s, cities began to build massive complexes of clustered towers encircled by plots of land closed off to through streets. It was a purity of modernist city planning, influenced by the avant-garde “towers in the park” urban reimagining of the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. The density and nearly identical stripped-down designs of the high-rises were also believed to cut down on costs while meeting greater demand.
“It’s almost like I died and went to heaven,” one of the first tenants of a development in Chicago recalled years later. J.S. Fuerst, the former head of research and statistics at the C.H.A., collected this testimonial and dozens of others like it from early occupants of the agency’s properties for a 2003 book titled “When Public Housing Was Paradise.” Even though these were low-income communities of thousands of people crammed together on isolated plazas, many families still found a modest home to be somehow divine after the damnation of the cold-water flats they left behind. There, they had been afraid of fires and sickness and eviction. Public housing, by contrast, was new and orderly. All the families went through a screening process. The buildings had teams of janitors on call around the clock. Groundskeepers maintained the gardens and lawns. There was a city agency responsible for answering calls. The C.H.A.’s first executive director, Elizabeth Wood, worried not that the new developments might be too large and come to define an area as low-rent, but rather that they wouldn’t be large enough to counteract the damaging effects of poverty and disrepair around them. “If it is not bold,” she said in 1945, “the result will be a series of small projects, islands in a wilderness of slums beaten down by smoke, noise and fumes.”
Across the entire country, a majority of public housing remained in low-rises; there were eventually more than 3,000 local authorities, most with fewer than 500 units. But large housing “projects” came to dominate urban landscapes and symbolize for many the unruliness and otherness of the “inner city” in decline. The towers-in-the-park design was only ever partly to blame. In Chicago, as elsewhere, high-rise developments were built intentionally in neighborhoods that were already segregated racially; rather than apportioning the working poor across a number of areas and helping to diversify cities, public housing had the effect of solidifying racial and economic boundaries in superblocks detached from the street grid, in towers of concrete and steel. Yet they were also perennially underfunded and perilously mismanaged. The developments were allowed to deteriorate as maintenance and repairs lagged. And as the broader fortunes of cities declined — diminishing populations and disappearing jobs, spiking poverty and crime and drug use — public housing bore the worst of those effects.
Soon, those same broad trends were used to justify abandoning the basic democratic idea of providing shelter for all. In 1972, when the 33 Pruitt-Igoe towers in St. Louis began to be imploded a mere 18 years after the complex fully opened, the televised image, with its mushrooming cloud of dust and debris, defined the popular notion of the public-housing experiment: It needed to be destroyed.
For other cities, demolition still remained a political and practical impossibility. In previous decades when slums were cleared, those displaced were sent into public housing. Now where could tens of thousands of people from the projects be sent? But the aversion to social safety-net programs only came to root more deeply in the American mainstream. After retaking Congress in 1994, Republicans said they planned to scrap the federal housing agency entirely. President Clinton, promoting his cuts to the welfare system and proclaiming “the era of big government is over,” pre-emptively reorganized HUD. The agency promised to “infuse market discipline” into public housing. The anti-urban impulse that had sent middle-class families to the suburbs had reversed itself, and young professionals were flocking to city centers near their jobs and one another.
In 1990, Chicago’s population started to tick up for the first time in 40 years; the area surrounding Cabrini-Green added 4,000 white residents during the previous decade, and vacant lots that had sold for $30,000 a few years earlier were being snapped up for five times that amount. As the fortunes of cities changed once again, public housing experienced a new pressure. HUD began to award municipalities tens of millions of dollars in grants to tear down their public-housing high-rises and replace them with much smaller developments that mixed public-housing families with higher-income renters and market-rate owners. Proposals to preserve some of the towers, filling in the cleared land around them with a variety of housing types, were rejected. Many low-rise developments in rejuvenating areas were targeted as well. A majority of the relocated public-housing residents were given Section 8 vouchers to rent from landlords in the private market. Nationwide, 250,000 public-housing units have been demolished since the 1990s. Atlanta, Baltimore, Columbus, Memphis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Tucson — just about every American city got in on the action. But no city knocked down as many as Chicago.
The C.H.A. moved Annie Ricks six miles away, to Chicago’s South Side, into Wentworth Gardens, a low-rise public-housing development built just after World War II. Since then, Wentworth had become sandwiched between the 14 lanes of the Dan Ryan Expressway and the parking lots for the White Sox baseball stadium. The only place nearby to buy groceries was a gas station and liquor store on the far end of the complex. But the units were modernized, and Ricks’s four-bedroom had a new kitchen and bathroom. Her apartment was on the second floor of a three-story walk-up, part of attached buildings that formed a horseshoe around a shared courtyard. In her living room, she hung photos of her family, three pictures of President Obama and a couple of prayers and rules: “Men don’t wear hats in the house.”
Ricks wanted to remain upbeat about the move. But when violence broke out at her new home, the longtime Wentworth residents said it was the fault of the newcomers, the outsiders from Cabrini-Green, a number of whom had been moved there. An elderly woman announced for Rose to hear that she didn’t like the Cabrini people and wanted them gone. When Reggie and Raqkown tried to play basketball at the courts beside their apartment, the guys there threw elbows and fists, trying to turn the game into a brawl. A group of boys jumped Reggie in the courtyard. Other former Cabrini residents who ended up there had guns pulled on them. “People at Wentworth think you’re stepping on their turf,” Ricks said. “This is not your turf. This is C.H.A.’s turf. You can’t run me from my home. Because I do pay rent.”
She often made the trip to visit her friends at the remaining strip of rowhouses at Cabrini-Green. She went to the jazz concerts held in the nearby park. Like many relocated families, she felt safer in the vestiges of the old neighborhood. When Raqkown, Ricks’s youngest, left his high school most days, he traveled to the field house at Cabrini. The principal at the neighborhood elementary school said two-thirds of his students were former Cabrini families who took the bus and train long distances to get there. Several Cabrini-Green Facebook pages formed, people reporting job opportunities and business ventures, sharing words of inspiration and announcements of deaths in the Cabrini family. Oftentimes a post showed a photo of one of the disappeared high-rises — “Who can say what building this is?” — leading to long threads of competing memories.
On an airless Saturday night in the summer of 2012, Ricks stepped outside into the Wentworth courtyard. She’d been confined to her apartment all day taking care of grandchildren and wanted to relax. She set up a small table, placing atop it a transistor radio and a can of bug spray. She popped open a bottle of iced tea she bought at the gas station and tuned the radio to a gospel station. Then she was startled by screaming in the distance. She recognized the voice before she saw him: Reggie. He came racing toward her out of the darkness with Raqkown sprinting beside him. A mob of men were at their heels. Her sons dashed past her and up the stairs to their apartment, their pursuers rushing past as well. Rose, who was inside, opened the door for her brothers, and the Wentworth guys charged in behind them, colliding into her. Ricks ran up the stairs after them. “Home invasion!” she cried.
In the cramped apartment, one invader knocked a television off the wall and stomped his foot through it. They pushed over a chest of drawers and threw chairs. Reggie, who was bleeding from his head, lifted a cooking pot off the stove and swung it to fend off blows. Rose armed herself with a mop. Their mother usually carried a fist of keys with her, and she now punched with it. She held the aerosol can of bug repellent as well, and she sprayed it into any face close by. “I’m just going to say it like this,” Ricks said later that night, “we did whatever we had to do to get their asses out of our house.”
For the next two weeks, Ricks stayed with a son in the Cabrini rowhouses. One of her older daughters put up Reggie and Raqkown. Rose moved in temporarily with another sibling in the western suburbs. A social-service provider asked Ricks if she wanted to go to a shelter. She didn’t. A shelter wasn’t any place to live. “That’s like giving up,” Ricks said. With the home invasion, her old stubbornness returned. No way was she going to be cheated out of a four-bedroom again. Not this time. She was going to keep her family together.
She put in for a transfer to a different C.H.A. development along the lakefront, and she documented every time she phoned the agency to get an update. She checked in with a pro bono lawyer who agreed to take her case, asking when she should expect to move.
“Just trying to get them to confirm that you’re eligible to be on the wait list for a four-bedroom,” he told her.
“So how long will that be?”
“I wish I knew. I think they’ll respond to me. I’ll bother them until they do. I think this is going to be taken care of. It’s not going to be done quickly.”
“It should be quickly, because you’re my lawyer,” Ricks said.
“I may be a lawyer; however, I’m not a magician.”
She ended up cutting ties with him. He’d been emailing the C.H.A. since July, but three months later, her situation remained the same. “I’m not prejudiced,” she said. “But if I’d have been white, he’d have moved me the very same day. He doesn’t have to live in Wentworth Gardens, in the ghetto, as they say.”
Across the highway from Wentworth Gardens, the 28 towers of the Robert Taylor Homes had stretched in a narrow band for two miles, looming in groups of three like sentinels for almost 50 years. But the entire housing project was torn down by 2007. The cleared land remained vacant. Unlike the Cabrini-Green site, the area couldn’t attract the higher rents or the sale of market-rate apartments to support a new mixed-income development. Mixed-income replacement buildings did offer public-housing families a better place to live. But the restrictions on entry excluded many, and interactions within the buildings were often tense. Most of all, the blended populations and low densities (as well as the crash of the housing market, which put a halt to most construction) meant they met just a small percentage of the need. In Chicago today, fewer than 3,000 public-housing families live in one of the mixed-income complexes.
Many more families were like the Rickses, people who went from run-down public housing to rehabbed public housing, albeit still in areas of concentrated poverty. The same proved true for those who moved with a voucher. The C.H.A. currently oversees 16,000 units of occupied public housing, more than a third of which are designated for the elderly, and 47,000 vouchers in the private market. The combination of the two exceeds what the agency’s total supply of housing was in the ’90s. Nationally, the number of families using a Section 8 rent subsidy has doubled over the last 25 years, to 2.3 million. In theory, a voucher gives a family the choice to live anywhere. But the rents the federal government pays to Section 8 landlords are generally not enough for a home in a diverse neighborhood with strong schools and low crime; most landlords taking vouchers aren’t in “opportunity” areas but in poor and racially isolated ones not so different from the razed government-run high-rises. In 2003, an independent monitor of the C.H.A.’s first years of relocations offered a bleak assessment: “The result has been that the vertical ghettos from which the families are being moved are being replaced with horizontal ghettos, located in well defined, highly segregated neighborhoods.”
The families that were dispersed from Chicago’s demolished public housing have been blamed for the city’s recent surge in gun violence, as well as for crime in the suburbs, the greater Midwest and even parts of the South. Several studies have shown that C.H.A. residents did not spread disorder wherever they settled, as if they carried an infectious disease. But these families were moved primarily to areas of Chicago that were already hollowed out of population, schools, occupied homes, jobs and resources. In South Shore, which took on more Section 8 renters than any other neighborhood in the city, 3,700 apartments were caught up in foreclosures, one out of every five rental units. The problems of concentrated poverty and isolation, which the demolitions were supposed to solve, persisted — and relocated families now found themselves in strange territory without their former support networks. People in public housing had, by necessity, bartered services, shopped together, shared food, stepped up when a neighbor lost a loved one. Annie Ricks’s oldest daughter, Kenosha, left Cabrini-Green when she was in her 20s and moved with her family to a block on the West Side. “I’ve been out here almost a decade, and I know three or four of my neighbors,” she told me recently. “ ‘They from the projects,’ people say. But they don’t know me. They weren’t raised how we were raised. We were raised to stick together. If you’re a neighbor, you let the next neighbor know what’s going on. They don’t do that out here.”
Developments like Cabrini-Green did in fact need to be made safer and more livable, and maybe even torn down. But the public had an obligation as well to ensure that those who lived there didn’t lose out when the high-rises were replaced. Virtually no new public housing has been built in the country in decades. There’s still a stock of over a million units nationwide, down from a peak of 1.4 million. Much of it is at risk. A HUD-commissioned study in 2010 found a $26 billion backlog in repair and maintenance needs, a figure estimated to have ballooned since then to more than $50 billion. Each year, some 10,000 to 15,000 units are lost solely because of neglect. The New York City Housing Authority had long avoided the failings that troubled authorities in other big cities. Towers in New York are the norm; maintenance and management remained strong, and high demand for housing allowed for renters with a greater range of incomes. But the city’s 2,500 buildings, home to 400,000 New Yorkers, now need $17 billion in unmet repairs. The problem is often worse in small cities and less-urban areas, because there is no other supply of low-income rentals once dilapidated public housing is shuttered. HUD, rather than trying to replenish its dangerously insufficient capital fund, submitted a 2018 budget that would slash it by another two-thirds.
All of this comes amid an affordable-housing crisis that is as urgent as it is unheeded. Today, only one of every five families poor enough to qualify for a housing subsidy actually receives one. A quarter of all renters nationwide pay more than half their income in rent. Families are forced to make harmful choices between rent and food, doctor’s visits and education costs. In their search for what public-housing agencies had promised as the minimal requirement of a “decent, safe and sanitary home,” the poor have been pushed farther from the economic activity and opportunities of city centers. The current head of the Chicago Housing Authority, Eugene Jones Jr., has envisioned a remedy, albeit an unlikely one, coming in the form of an infrastructure bill that would fully fund housing assistance, coupling the subsidy with the wraparound services — health care, day care, job training and transportation — that residents need to thrive. “I’m not a Republican, but we’re trying to transform our residents out of public and assisted housing,” Jones said. “The end game is that you’re moving off subsistence.” It’s a noble goal. But there simply is no adequate supply of housing at that next step up. In 2014, when the C.H.A. opened a lottery just to make it onto the waiting list for either a voucher or public-housing unit, 280,000 families entered their names, a quarter of all the households in Chicago.
Around the old Cabrini-Green and other expensive urban real estate markets, close-cropped towers are again being built. These are high-end private developments, although they occasionally set aside a number of subsidized apartments for an allotted period of time in exchange for tax breaks and building rights. The common sentiment is that the people who can afford the luxury high-rises have created their own good fortune; the generous government benefits they receive are rightfully earned. For those in Wentworth Gardens or Chicago’s distant South Side or any impoverished neighborhood in the country, no political will exists anymore for the government to step in and transform the blocks that have been left to decline. Affordable-housing advocates are by no means pushing for a return to large public-housing high-rise developments, but some have noted that a few towers mixed in here and there with the luxury condos wouldn’t stand out.
There are calls to again mobilize the country’s resources. The Bipartisan Policy Center has endorsed a universal voucher program that would guarantee rental assistance to the country’s 11.4 million extremely low income households. Several studies by the Urban Institute and other research organizations show that such an endeavor would recoup much of its cost in reduced homelessness and also ease health problems and other consequences of instability that are ultimately paid for by governments. Several organizations in recent years have proposed tax credits for cost-burdened low-income households. And a bill introduced numerous times by the Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison sets out to cut the mortgage-interest deduction for wealthier homeowners and use the $200 billion in savings over 10 years to close the affordable-housing deficit. Congress did, in fact, cut the mortgage-interest deduction as part of last December’s tax bill, though by much less than low-income housing proponents had wanted. The savings went not to creating affordable housing but to offsetting the tax benefits that Republicans doled out to corporations and the wealthiest Americans. Seventy years into our test as a country to provide housing for those who have too little, we are hardly any closer to passing.
Annie Ricks was out walking one night, venturing from Wentworth Gardens, when a burning pain shot through her left foot. She soon developed calluses on her heel. Then she couldn’t put any weight on the foot. An emergency-room doctor said she had diabetes and needed surgery. The recovery was supposed to take less than a week, but Ricks got an infection at the hospital. She had trouble eating and lost weight, the sharp bones of her cheeks never more pronounced. “I need to laugh sometimes instead of cry,” she said. “If I’m going to cry, it won’t get me out of Wentworth Gardens.” But then she came down with pneumonia. She was relocated to another hospital and intubated. She couldn’t talk or smile. Her daughters complained that the staff ignored their mother because she lacked insurance and relied on state medical assistance. They said the nurses failed to turn her properly, pointing to the holes forming in their mother’s back. The family contacted a malpractice lawyer they heard about on television, who asked them repeatedly if there had been a bed fall, because that would be a “slam dunk.” No, they told him, there hadn’t been a fall, and he stopped returning their calls. Then on Nov. 16, 2014, with her family gathered around, Annie Ricks died. She was 58. “You walk in with a sore foot, and you never leave,” a daughter said bitterly.
Rose and her toddler daughter remained in the apartment at Wentworth Gardens. Her brothers slept there less and less frequently. With their mother gone, their lives became more itinerant. They stayed with girlfriends or with other siblings scattered around the city and the surrounding suburbs. Wentworth hadn’t become any safer for them. Reggie, in his early 20s, was arrested there after another fight. A group of guys at the development pounced on Raqkown and broke a bone in his neck. But it wasn’t clear where they would be better off. Raequonn Ricks Williams, a 19-year-old relative, was shot on the West Side, one of the 762 people murdered in Chicago in 2016. Reggie and his mother had squabbled before her death. He’d been turned down at more than a dozen job interviews, and Annie Ricks berated him for giving up. He racked up arrests. “When Reggie left Cabrini, he felt his whole family was gone,” Kenosha said of her younger brother. “His immediate family plus everybody he was in, like, preschool with.”
Rose left finally for an apartment building 25 blocks farther south. She had got her daughter into a school near there, and she had also come to feel haunted at Wentworth, always expecting to see her mother emerge from one of the bedrooms. Back in 2014, at her mother’s funeral, Rose had been unable to speak through her tears. A hundred former Cabrini-Green residents showed up at the West Side church to pay their respects. Rose’s siblings talked about their mother’s stubbornness, her determination to provide for them: “What she didn’t have, she made sure we had it,” one said. Reggie said he didn’t care that he had a terrible singing voice, and he started in on an R. Kelly song: “Dear Mama, you wouldn’t believe what I’m goin’ through/But still I got my head up just like I promised you.” Kenton, Ricks’s fourth of nine sons, said they all learned from her example. “Be strong, take care of the kids, take care of family,” he repeated. She made them all better people. “She’d do anything for anybody,” he said. “She was just love.”