A Change in the Neighborhood

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Angela Leonard wants nothing more than to raise her four kids in a safe environment. But she says growing up in the projects, her children see more sirens than toys.
"My kids aren't comfortable here, I'm not comfortable here, I'm not comfortable to let them play outside, not with all the gun shootings," says Leonard.
Leonard says her kids witness drug sales and gun fights on a regular basis. It's not the life she'd hoped for and now it's about to change.
"We're going to be demolishing the Jane Addams project sometime mid-summer to late fall," says Steven Anderson, Executive Director of the Rockford Housing Authority.
The housing authority is now offering Section 8 vouchers to qualified Jane Addams residents. Those vouchers will give them subsidized housing with one of 400 landlords throughout the city.
"Over time we've got some deferred maintenance, we've had crime problems, it's just obsolete housing that needs to come down and the Section 8 program will serve these residents much better," says Anderson.
But that's questionable. Angela Leonard applied for housing in Machesney Park where she grew up. But the landlord told her she couldn't rent there due to an eviction on her record. However, the same property managers were happy to set her up at a house on the west side.
"I felt discriminated against. You're holding an eviction against me then I should not be able to rent from you period. If you're using that against me how are you going to offer me a house on the west side but I can't live in Machesney Park?" says Leonard.
Eviction policies are up to individual landlords within a management company. The Machesney Park landlord could not be reached for comment. But that's not the only obstacle residents face.
"Being in this area for so long, I don't really know anything else," says Tia McVay.
She has lived in Rockford housing for six years. She admits it's not a great place to raise her two daughters but it's still her home and leaving will take some adjustment. All section 8 candidates are going through weeklong classes.
"It's kind of preparing us to know what it's going to be like to live on our own in a home," says McVay.
Despite her nerves, McVay is staying optimistic. She says, "Now that I know what they're trying to do to make the area better, I think it's good."
And hopeful: "Maybe a yard for them to play in, pretty good schools, a playground, things like that."
And so is Angela Leonard.
She says, "Now that I'm getting help with Section 8, I want to enroll back in school so I can get a good job and make enough money to where I can be a single mom on my own."
And give her kids a chance to play away from sirens.
Jane Addams sits close to downtown, but the director of housing says there is no ulterior motive to move residents out so they can develop that land. They plan to replace the project with a park.
The director of housing says on top of the poor quality of life, at this point it would be more expensive to fix all the maintenance problems in the project than it is to switch to Section 8.
In the Section 8 program, the housing authority pays a large portion of rent. The resident must cover the rest. Those who can't afford rent will move to another project site in the city.