The Altgeld Gardens are a housing project in Chicago that were built during World War II to furnish housing for black veterans returning from the war. In the 1980's the projects were among the worst in the nation. Isolated from the city of Chicago and surrounded by landfills and industrial complexes, the projects are not healthy for residents. President Obama became a community organizer in Chicago during this time. His organization was concerned about the projects as the asbestos had not yet been removed, which was a major health concern. His organization took up the cause of asbestos abatement in the Altgeld Gardens.
President Obama was embarrassed and felt guilty about a meeting that took place between the housing executive director and about 700 residents. The director showed up over an hour late which established the tenor of the meeting. Residents grew angry and frustrated when the director told them that the city had not even started with the planning process for removing the asbestos. The crowd grew unruly and the director left the proceedings. Mr. Obama felt that he had not fully prepared the residents for the meeting and felt embarrassed by the entire episode. While the asbestos was removed from the projects, it did not occur until after President Obama left for law school in 1989.