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Joliet tenants allegedly called ‘rats and whores from Chicago’

The Department Justice is sueing Joliet claiming city wants demolish Evergreen Terrace housing complex (above) 300 block N. Broadway St.

The Department of Justice is sueing Joliet, claiming the city wants to demolish the Evergreen Terrace housing complex (above) in the 300 block of N. Broadway St. in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 29, 2012 6:58AM

The City of Joliet’s long battle to seize control of a privately-owned Section 8 housing project is motivated by a racially-charged desire to drive out hundreds of poor black residents it described as “rats and whores from Chicago,” attorneys alleged in federal court Thursday.

What’s expected to be a weeks-long bench trial to determine the fate of Evergreen Terrace — a riverside housing project that is home to more than 300 African-American families near downtown Joliet — began amid heated opening argument exchanges.

The City of Joliet insists the project is a urine-stinking, crime-ridden “blight” on the community whose long-term safety and re-development can only be secured if Judge Charles Norgle forces the owners New West and New Bluff to sell it to Joliet under eminent domain.

But the owners, the tenants and the federal government all say that Joliet deliberately overstated the project’s problems so that city officials could snag the keys to potentially lucrative land near Harrah’s casino.

Evergreen Terrace has been transformed and crime cut by 75 percent thanks to a recent $5 million federally-funded makeover that the City of Joliet fought to stop, they say, alleging that Joliet’s real problem isn’t with the building, but the people who live there. Around 95 percent of the tenants are black, they say.

A dozen tenants watching proceedings Thursday gasped as Assistant U.S. Attorney Kate Elengold alleged that Joliet councilman Tim Brophy was speaking for the City when he allegedly said that the project’s tenants were “rats from the Robert Taylor homes” who needed to be removed.

Elengold, who is representing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), also said evidence will show that either former Joliet Mayor Arthur Schultz or former city manager John Mezera described the 700 tenants as “prostitutes,” “whores” or criminals who would “go back to Chicago” if they were evicted and given housing vouchers.

The city has said that any displaced residents will be given vouchers to live elsewhere, but tenants and their supporters say there aren’t nearly enough empty homes in Joliet that accept Section 8.

The fate of the case may hinge on what evidence Norgle decides he can consider. The city, which presented photos of run-down Evergreen Terrace homes taken when it first filed for eminent domain in 2005, says any repairs or improvements made since are irrelevant.

But HUD wants the results of the $5 million revamp it paid for taken into account. After it showed photos taken this year of the new-look project, Reena Bajowala, an attorney representing the tenants said Evergreen Terrace units weren’t just somewhere to live, but “a home and a community and a sense of security,” for residents.

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