In 1989, four courageous women in Chester, Pennsylvania, frustrated with the horrendous oversight and mismanagement of the city's public housing, led a class action lawsuit against the Chester Housing Authority (CHA), the City of Chester and the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development.Those four residents and the late federal judge who presided over their case and then the housing authority itself, were honored in ceremonies today.
CHA's headquarters building was dedicated in the name of Judge Norma L. Shapiro, as members of her family and the three surviving plaintiffs in the case looked on."The story of the Chester Housing Authority, since the late 1980s is, without a doubt, one of the great transformations of a government-assisted program that our country has ever seen – thanks to Norma Shapiro," declared CHA Executive Director Steven A. Fischer. "She helped CHA develop from units of housing that no one wanted to live in anymore, to an agency with long waiting lists of applicants over the past decade.
In housing, a picture of transformation cannot be any clearer than that."The residents persevered in federal court until they achieved wide-ranging change. A bronze plaque telling their story was unveiled at the headquarters building's front entrance, making it the first thing visitors see. Their efforts led to a 20-year judicial receivership and the complete rebuilding and rehabilitation of the Chester Housing Authority under Judge Shapiro's watch."Every movement has its start," Fischer said. "Ours began with the courageousness and determination of Yvonne Carrington, Barbara Muhammad, Ella Thompson and Ernestine Tilghman."A colleague of Judge Shapiro, U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe, spoke at today's event to praise her trailblazing colleague."Judge Shapiro had the iron will of a judge, but cared as much about the people as she did about the law," Rufe said.Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland who has often remarked on the housing authority's outstanding performance, also had words of appreciation for both Judge Shapiro and the four women who brought the case.
"She gave her heart to turn what we used to call projects into what we now call housing developments," said the mayor. "She listened to the pleas of these four women and she did something about it."