STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.
We're going to report this morning on a small milestone that marks a major change in American cities. All across America, over the past two decades, giant high-rise public housing projects have been torn down. Those projects were blamed for concentrating poverty and perpetuating crime. And since the 1990s, they've been replaced by low-rise housing.
This week, some of the last residents are supposed to leave one of the most notorious projects of all. The Chicago Housing Authority has been gradually moving residents out and tearing down the high rises at Cabrini-Green. Only two families remain in what was once a sprawling complex. Those last families could leave as soon as today.
NPR's David Schaper reports on their future.
DAVID SCHAPER: Fifty-four-year-old Annie Ricks stands in the icy parking lot outside of 1230 North Burling, the last high-rise still standing in the long-troubled Cabrini-Green public housing development. Ricks' family is one of just two still living here. A federal judge is giving them until Friday to move out. She points to her apartment on the 11th floor of the 15-story building behind the fenced-in exterior corridor that gives the building that prison look, while a few floors below janitorial staff in white protective suits clean out the apartments of her neighbors, and she thinks back to when she moved her family into Cabrini's high rises 21 years ago.
Ms. ANNIE RICKS: Well, at first it wasn't, you know, no place like where I wanted to come. Like I'm saying there was like shooting over here and everything and I was even over here when Dantrell, you know, got shot, and I wasn't used to like the neighborhood and stuff like, because I never had to live like in the projects, as they always say.
SCHAPER: Dantrell is Dantrell Davis, a seven-year-old boy shot and killed by a gang sniper as his mother held his hand and walked him to school between Cabrini high rises in 1992. It's one of several infamous incidents of violence over the decades that garnered Cabrini-Green a reputation as one of the nation's worst public housing complexes.
At one time the dozens of white block and red brick high and mid-rise buildings of Cabrini Green were home to close to 15,000 people. And Ricks, who moved into Cabrini in the late '80s, says despite her initial reservations, things got a lot better here, and now she doesn't want to leave.
Ms. RICKS: It's good to me.
SCHAPER: Ricks and other residents say Cabrini-Green is portrayed in the media to be much worse than it really is, and though they know they have to move, they want to remain within the Cabrini neighborhood.
The Chicago Housing Authority says it is trying to do just that with its 10-year-old Plan for Transformation, which is replacing the densely populated, crime-ridden and sometimes squalid high and mid-rise public housing units in Chicago with 25,000 new or renovated, mostly low-rise units, with an emphasis on putting residents in mixed income developments across the city.
Kris Warren is the CHA's chief operating officer.
Ms. KRIS WARREN (Chicago Housing Authority): We know that the lifestyle of our families who have been able to move out of Cabrini-Green and our other high rises is 100 percent better. We stay in touch with those families; they are happy when we talk to them about their moves. They actually wish sometimes that they had done this sooner.
Professor D. BRADFORD HUNT (University, Chicago): This is a radical transformation.
SCHAPER: D. Bradford Hunt is a public housing expert at Chicago's Roosevelt University. He says while high rises had to come down, he says it's not yet clear if all the residents being moved out are better off.
Prof. HUNT: I would say that some residents are better off. They've moved into these new mixed income communities. We know that they feel safer. We know that their housing conditions are better.
SCHAPER: But Hunt says some Chicago public housing residents are in new communities, just as high crime and high poverty as the one they left, and without the friends, family and community network of support they had in Cabrini.
Mr. KENNETH HAMMOND: I love Cabrini. You know, we was like, we were like one big family.
SCHAPER: Kenneth Hammond has lived all of his 41 years here in Cabrini-Green, working for Chicago Park District for the last 16 years in two of Cabrini's parks. He moved out of 1230 North Burling last week and into a rehabbed row house nearby. But he says it hurts to watch the buildings he grew up around come down.
Mr. HAMMOND: From the people that we lost in the buildings, in the community, you know, the people that have just left the community, yes, it's really a hurting feeling that you can kind of hear it in my throat...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. HAMMOND: ...that it's a hurting feeling among us as the residents.
SCHAPER: Hammond says he hopes the redeveloped Cabrini-Green will eventually bring more residents back home, but he knows for better or for worse it'll never be the same.
David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.