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And that made an existing housing squeeze for the city's poor even worse. Already 48,000 families are on the waiting list for public housing, and 38,000 more are wait-listed to receive subsidized rent payments known as Housing Choice vouchers. Over the next few years an additional 4,000 voucher-bearing families are expected to hit the market. The CHA's rapid rate of demolition is worsening the problem; so far 7,300 units have been demolished, but only 699 have been built, forcing tenants in and out of temporary housing as they vie for permanent shelter in a desperate game of musical chairs. At Cabrini a total of 922 units have been demolished, but only 700 new units will replace them, which means residents wishing to return will be selected by lottery. All others will be placed in housing elsewhere or will receive vouchers.
Although Berryman received a voucher to cap her rent payments at 30% of her income, she quickly learned that even with the subsidy, she could not afford a place that improved much on the one she had left behind. She had to move three times before finding a place where she felt secure. Her first apartment, a two-bedroom walk-up in an economically struggling neighborhood in the Far North Side, appeared fine at first, and at $585 a month was in her price range. "It was a relief to not have to duck when I walked by my own window," she says, referring to the stray gunfire that crackled through Cabrini after dark. Nearly anything would be safer than Cabrini, she reasoned. But just two months after she moved in, a vandal torched the building entryway. In the fire and smoke, all her possessions were lost. After enduring several days in a shelter, Berryman and her son squeezed into the three-bedroom apartment of her daughter Kizzy, 23, and her six children for a few months until the two could find a new place to stay. Their next stop was a $680-a-month two-bedroom on the city's West Side that was spacious--even if the neighborhood, dotted with run-down buildings and full of underemployed men, seemed threadbare. With a little help from the Salvation Army, Berryman furnished the place with a dining-room set and new beds. Eight weeks later she abandoned that apartment too when she discovered the building was infested with rats. Her ordeal ended when she and her son finally settled in a tidy $950-a-month three-bedroom in an African-American and Latino neighborhood on the Near West Side. "You move out into what's supposed to be a better world, and there's nothing but drama and hassle," says Berryman. "Sometimes I think the better world isn't necessarily better."
Deidre Brewster, 29, who left Cabrini in the late 1990s with her two children, had a similar experience. She had hoped to find something close to Cabrini, but even with a voucher she found herself priced out of her neighborhood. While she expanded her search to the city's North and South sides, she was forced to move her family in with her mother. "If it weren't for her, I would have been homeless," Brewster recalls. "I couldn't find a decent place. The only apartment I could find was in a slum area" suffering from "drug issues, gang issues and neglect." Brewster finally found a place close to her old neighborhood, but she had to empty her savings and borrow to scrape together the $800 a month and $1,500 security deposit.