Piece Comment

Review of House of Pain

If you've ever driven through Chicago's South Side on the Dan Ryan Expressway, you've seen the towers. The high-rise public housing that dominates neighborhoods and imprisons people. What's it like to live there? This documentary takes you there. Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister of Long Haul Productions produced this piece, which won an Edward R. Murrow award a few years ago. The story is narrated by a man who lives there. His name is Andre Williams. When you listen to his story, you get closer to the people who lived in the place that gangbangers call "The House of Pain," also known as Stateway Gardens. This piece originally aired in 2002. (One year later, the producers returned to Stateway to find out what happened to people forced to leave. That doc is called "Movin' Out the Bricks" and also originally aired on Chicago Public Radio.) Andre is an affable guide. We meet an older woman named Gloria Dixon, who lives on the eighth floor and prays for a working lift: "Lord, let this elevator work because I'm tired and I don't feel like walking." We meet Patricia Davis, her two kids and five grandkids, who live as squatters in Apt. 703. "They keep the place pretty clean," Andre says. And so on. There's a lot of great human detail here. And it's mixed with complex public policy questions: Should the Chicago Public Housing Authority demolish a place that is home to so many people? Was it racist and wrong-headed to put all these poor people together in the first place? Did the government do enough to help the people displaced by the destruction of the "House of Pain" find a new place to live?