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After 20 years of battling for its building, the nascent institution’s most significant challenges lie ahead.
When the National Public Housing Museum finally opens next year in a three-story brick building at 1322 W. Taylor—the last remnant of Chicago's oldest federal housing project, the Jane Addams Homes—it will be the first cultural institution in the country devoted to chronicling and analyzing America's attempts to house its people. Over the last 20 years, the idea for the museum has evolved into an ambitious plan that includes historic reconstructions of public housing apartments, a policy research center, and an entrepreneurial hub, along with programming that bridges social justice struggles past and present. But it all began with the dream of one woman, Deverra Beverly, who wanted to ensure her community wouldn't be forgotten.
If any of the 7,000 public housing residents living in the Near West Side's ABLA Homes in the 1980s and '90s needed anything, from a job to a Thanksgiving turkey to a plumbing fix, Beverly was the person to see. A diminutive woman who wore bright colors and gold necklaces monogrammed with the letter D, Beverly was part alderman and part ward boss. Less bombastic than pragmatic, she was the long-tenured president of the Local Advisory Council, the elected resident leadership group for the four public housing projects that made up ABLA—the Jane Addams Homes, Robert Brooks Homes, Loomis Courts, and Grace Abbott Homes.
While every project has an LAC, which serves as the voice of a public housing community before the Chicago Housing Authority, ABLA's was particularly strong due to Beverly's pull with city leaders and her keen ability to procure scarce resources from the cash-strapped, disorganized CHA. She was on good terms with local aldermen—who in 1994 christened the section of Loomis running alongside the ABLA community center Honorary Deverra Beverly Way—and with Mayor Richard M. Daley.