‘Chicago Tonight’ In Your Neighborhood: Robbins Calls For Federal Help to Fix Aging Water Infrastructure

Robbins is one of the oldest African-American suburbs in the Chicago area. The village was founded in 1917 and carries a long history.

Over Thanksgiving week, hundreds of residents were left with dry homes following two water main breaks.

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“It’s so frustrating, even to take a shower, to wash your body, you have to go to someone’s house to use water. That’s our main thing,” said resident Samantha Conrad. “We have six people living here … it’s hard.” 

Conrad moved to the suburb over the summer and said she had no idea she would have to store water.

“Sometimes in the summertime too,” Conrad said. “This is not what I was expecting when we bought our first home.”

Interactive map: More from our community reporting series

Longtime resident Shelby, who declined to use her last name, said the village of Robbins has been dealing with water issues for as long as she remembers. Her family moved to Robbins in the 1960s and said she has memories of her parents storing water, boiling water and going without water for days. 

“It seems like nobody is trying to resolve it. The mayor is saying he has reached out to people and they have been passing out water, but it’s ongoing. It seems like it’s never going to end. We need water every day; we have to store water, boil water. I haven’t actually cooked a meal,” she said. 

According to Mayor Darren Bryant, Robbins has experienced 23 water main breaks since January.

Raised in the neighborhood, Bryant said he is taking on the issue and is pleading for federal funding to reconstruct the more than 60-year-old infrastructure. 

“When we are talking about infrastructure, which is millions of dollars, you need the state and federal help on an infrastructure project,” said Bryant, who was elected in 2021.

Robbins has a population around 4,600 people.

Back in 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted an inspection where it states the city of Chicago supplies the water to the village but ultimately, it’s Robbins' responsibility to maintain the water system.
In the report, the village was hit with a slew of violations.

“I do want to go on record saying that the EPA is our friend not our enemy ... We haven’t wrongfully neglected our infrastructure. We just never have had the money to repair it,” Bryant said. 

Video: Watch our full interview with Robbins Mayor Darren Bryant.

Chicago has filed a lawsuit against Robbins to pay up the $16 million owed to the city for past due water balances and late fees.

On top of that, they owe Calumet City Plumbing $71,000 dollars in water main repair work. Mayor Bryant said U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush is leading efforts to address the long standing infrastructure issues.

“It came down once upon a time to systemic racism,” Bryant said. “Our social economic class wasn’t privy to some of the resource’s or to the attention that some of these affluent towns were given. It’s not a Democrat-Republican thing as they fight in Capitol Hill. We need help on the local level of this nation.” 

Village Trustee Tiffany Robinson said residents can help by calling their state representatives.

“At this point, we should be contacting our state representatives as well as our state senators, members of Congress… to express their concern about the inadequacy of our infrastructure,” Robinson said. “It’s incomprehensible to even know or remember that on this Thanksgiving, we had residents that had no water, could not shower, could not cook their food … we’re calling on our citizens to help us call on our legislators … we need everybody. This is bigger than just a Robbins issue.”

For residents down on Kedvale Avenue, storing water and buying cases of water   bottles has become a daily routine.
While the town struggles with issues around its water supply, some residents are looking to build up the community they call home.

Dining In Robbins

Kawani Blackman, a lifelong resident of Robbins, opened up shop five months ago.

Ding Kong Eatery is currently the only sit-down restaurant in the village.

They’re known for their “mean” pork chop, salmon croquettes and sweet steak.

He said his dream was to create a diner that was accessible to the people of Robbins.

“The vision was for the community,” Blackman said. “We didn’t have a place for people to come in the community to eat fast food. For the people that cant drive or afford uber, they can just walk over … that way you can still have the same vibe, ‘Oh I’ll meet you down at Ding Kong.’”

Business was busy when he first opened, but it’s been challenging keeping his restaurant alive as the seasons fluctuate.

“There’s ups and downs with the community … you get some people every day, but you get your regulars. I have about 20 to 30 people who are regulars,” Blackman said.

Video: Watch our full interview with Kawani Blackman. 

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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