Positives and Negatives in Chicago's Public Housing System, Says Report

September 7, 2009
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Ten years after Chicago began a systematic overhaul of its distressed public housing, the fate of residents differs starkly depending on where they live, according to a recent report released by Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI).

BPI’s “The Third Side: A Mid-Course report on Chicago’s Transformation of Public Housing” praises the city and the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) for their bold vision in converting some of the city’s most infamous high-rise projects into economically integrated new communities that include but are not dominated by public housing, and afford low-income residents opportunities for economic and social integration.

But the report also points out that many less-visible public housing developments continue to languish in the impoverished, crime-plagued conditions that existed in 1999, when the city and the CHA launched their $1.6 billion “Plan for Transformation.”

The BPI report finds that the decision to replace only some developments with mixed-income communities, while leaving concentrations of poor households at others, has resulted in glaring disparities in residents’ quality of life. “We have a tale of two cities,” said Hoy McConnell, BPI executive director. “CHA families in new mixed-income communities now live in conditions indistinguishable from economically better-off neighborhoods. That’s a major achievement that would have been considered impossible 20 years ago. At the same time, far too many public housing families live in environments virtually identical to those that triggered the $1.6 billion overhaul of public housing.”

The BPI is urging the city and the CHA to adopt the long-term goal of converting exclusively low-income developments to mixed-income, along with other recommendations.

For a full copy of the report, go to: bipchicago.org.