In the fall of 1996, Cabrini Green resident activist Carol Steele formed the Coalition to Protect Public Housing with Wardell Yotaghan, a Rockwell Gardens public housing resient, to protest the Chicago Housing Authority's (CHA) plans to demolish public housing. Both were concerned about the recent retraction of "one-for-one" replacement housing, which ensured that a new construction unit would replace any demolished public housing unit. They elicited the staff support of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and later the Community Renewal Society and the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs to aid them in contesting demolition. Over 60 additional Chicago organization offered to support their efforts.
During the next two years, public housing tenants and local activists implemented a resident organizing and public education campaign. On June 19th 1997 (also known as "Juneteenth," the oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery), Wardell led 2,000 people in a march on the CHA offices and City Hall. Less than a year later, the CPPH organized a sit-in at the Chicago HUD regional offices, which enabled them to secure a statement from HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo that he would not sign off on CHA demolition plans until researchers showed that there was enough affordable housing in the private market to accomodate displaced residents. Other Coalition accomplishments included securing a Relocation Rights Contract for affected tenants and encouraging CHA to undertake a rental market analysis, even though they ignored its results.
Wardell's sudden death in 1999 came as a shock to many residents and local activists. The 1999 Juneteenth event was a tribute to his leadership and dedication to preserving public housing. Despite this event and the Coalition's march on City Hall in October, the CHA drafted the Plan for Transformation in late 1999. Since studies indicated a tight and racially discriminatory market for affordable units, the Coalition objected profusely to it and demanded HUD hold hearings in Chicago to discuss the issue. As Chicago history reveals, however, growth goals and "city beautification" hold priority over poor people's welfare. On February 6, 2000, HUD approved the Plan for Transformation. As one Coalition member recalled at a recent meeting, "They told us that the train was out of the station and we were left behind."
As the Coalition continued to orgainize, demonstrate and education the public about the detrimental effects of demolition throughout the following years, it became apparent that a new framework was needed to refocus public attention on resident displacement. On January 31, 2004, CPPH members led a workshop on housing and human rights at the Chicago Social Forum, a component of the World Social Forum, which initiates dialogue among human rights organizations from around the world. Previously tenant leaders had attended an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in New York City and testified about housing conditions and forced evictions before the United Nations. The Forum enabled CPPH members to discuss their past experiences and plan for the future. Since the talk drew 50 people and generated fervent discussion, CPPH formally incorporated the human rights framework into the agenda at their annual retreat in February 2004. Ten months later, the Mertz Gilmore Foundation awarded the group $10,000 to implement a "housing is a human right" campaign in Chicago. Ever since, many residents and local activists have referred to demolition inflicted by the Plan for Transformation as a "human rights crisis."