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Last Cabrini-Green High-Rise Closing

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The last residents are moving out of the Cabrini-Green high-rise public housing development, but some say they are not ready to go.

Crews were moving out the last of four or five families from the 15-story white concrete high-rise at 1230 N. Burling St., known colloquially as "Scamplife."

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Residents said the Chicago Housing Authority gave them until Tuesday to move out, moving up an original January deadline. Officials said the building is no longer safe because of its low occupancy.

But some residents said closing the building amounts to the last vestiges of a close-knit community being eliminated.

"I've been here all my life – 15 years, and when our building was up, we were like family," said Shawn Lee, who lives in the building with his mother. "Now we're going to an environment where we know nobody; they'll think we're probably in gangs – new faces; they'll try to jump on us."

Shawn and his mother, Ramona Lee, are set to move to a unit in the Dearborn Homes development on the city's Near South Side. Ramona Lee told CBS 2's Jim Williams she has lived in the Burling Street high-rise for 30 years.

Her focus on Tuesday was on practical concerns, not sentiment or nostalgia.

"Right now, I'm unemployed and I haven't put in my budget transportation for my kids, my laundry; I don't have that in my budget, so it's a dramatic change for me," Ramona Lee said. "I'm not ready to leave the area."

Some residents are also being moved to nearby town homes.

Resident Kenneth Hammond said he is not satisfied with the condition of new housing being offered, noting the residences are still being rehabilitated.

Further, while Cabrini-Green was infamous for crime and violence for many years, Hammond said such is no longer the case – particularly compared with some other neighborhoods of the city.

"When we go to other neighborhoods, this is the safest neighborhood there is in the city of Chicago if you ask me," Hammond said. "The homicide is down. There's nobody getting shot at; nobody getting killed over here. We understand the occupancy of the building is low, but we just want to be somewhere safe for us and our family."

Hammond and several others said they wanted more time to get ready to move out of the building.

The area has changed dramatically in the last decade. The sprawling Cabrini-Green public housing project had been one the most dangerous areas of the city.

Now, the high-rises are mostly gone, replaced by condos and townhomes. Some former Cabrini residents do live in the area, paying what they can afford, but not most.

Even so, the Chicago Housing Authority insists those residents will be better off living in mixed income communities throughout the city.

Hammond doesn't agree after visiting one of those neighborhoods.

"These guys running through the alley. There were even some shots fired," Hammond said. "And I went back to my family and said we need to re-think this out."

Annie Ricks decided she will not leave the building.

"They're going to have to do what they're going to have to do," she said. "They're going to have to have the police take me out."

For at least the next few weeks, Ricks will be allowed to stay. But Ramona Lee has said goodbye to her home of 30 years.

She said the neighbors that are refusing to leave "got my blessings," but "I got to go."

The plan to vacate the last Cabrini-Green high rise is part of the CHA's "Plan for Transformation," which aims to eliminate the isolation of public housing residents.

Critics, though, have said the move to tear down Cabrini-Green and other CHA high rises is about turning over valuable property to wealthy developers.

Cabrini-Green once sprawled from Evergreen Avenue on the north to Chicago Avenue on the south, and from the Brown-Purple Line 'L' tracks on the east to Halsted Street on the west.

The Burling Street building now stands like a monolith just east of the intersection of Halsted and Division streets. It was once one of eight high-rises in the William Green Homes, or "the whites," constructed in 1962 and located north of Division.

South of Division Street, there were more than a dozen red brick high- and mid-rise buildings, which were constructed in 1958 and have been under demolition since 1995. The last remaining mid-rises, at 364 and 365 W. Oak St., were closed in September.

Now the only part of Cabrini-Green that will remain with the closure of the Burling Street building will be the original row houses in the southwestern part of the development. They date from 1942.

The 1230 N. Burling St. building is expected to be demolished next year.

CBS 2's Jim Williams and WBBM Newsradio 780's Bernie Tafoya contributed to this report.

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