Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Reasons The CHA Is Tearing Down High-Rises

There's a letter to the editor in the Tribune from the receiver for the CHA family public housing development program. In it, he gives reasons why the CHA now provides low-rise, mixed-income housing rather than segregating the poor in high-rises, which are being torn down all over the city.

Look at the housing plan for Wilson Yard. Does it even vaguely resemble the CHA's vision of successful housing, based on the mistakes of the past?

Stated simply, our goal is to create housing that provides CHA residents the opportunity to live in healthy, mixed-income communities. ...

The large tracts of vacant land where demolished CHA high-rises once stood, together with the abundant vacant land that surrounded them, created the opportunity to rebuild walkable, low-density communities, where new CHA homes blend indistinguishably with affordable and market-rate housing. This new investment has led to the development of new shopping centers, restaurants, banks, parks, schools and other amenities that are common in all strong and vibrant communities. ...

[W]e are helping to break the cycle of poverty for thousands of CHA residents, many of whom have lived for generations in unsafe and isolated low-income communities, deprived of essential resources that lead families to self-sufficiency, and that we are creating healthy, sustainable communities, where people of all incomes may live and work peacefully together.


  1. I wish, with all this complaining, someone who knows how this stuff works files a freeking class action or an injunction or something regarding Wilson Yards. Constantly complaining about it does absolutely nothing to stop or change it....

    ..if I was an attorney or had such knowledge on the 'next step' I would take it. But I do not. I hope someone on this blog does so we can do something positive about it instead of just whining on here....

  2. Stated simply, our goal is to create housing that provides CHA residents the opportunity to live in healthy, mixed-income communities.

    See, thats not Shiller's goal. She wants to create a dependent desolate voting block that she can market herself too as their champion.

    And as for suing, I still haven't heard what grounds we could sue on. "The city is wasting our money" doesn't really work. When you turn over your tax dollars to the city, they get to do whatever they want with them, thats how big government works.

    So you may hate the whining, but its just catharsis. I suppose we could follow the model of the Shillerites and start a gun battle in the afternoon, but I think whining about it on a blog is better for all of us.

  3. Maybe if everyone starts referring to the gang-bangers as "Schiller-ites", she will be shameed into curbing the violence (increasing police presence, camers, etc)

    Why is it that everyone knows where the problems are but the police are powerless to do anything but "catch and release"?

  4. I think there is still a little bit of misunderstanding about why the CHA housing failed. It is not simply just because they were high rises. They were high rises placed in already deteriorating communities. In addition, they were designed following from the Le Courbusier approach to architecture/city design which built upwards in order to maximize open space for all. What this ended up doing was even further isolating these communities from the surrounding neighborhood and its amenities and resources. The height also made them hard to police and maintain because activity that might otherwise have been caught in an alley or on the street was now 7 stories up behind walls.

    In my view, the "towers of low income housing" that people refer to are not necessarily the problem with WY. Compared to Cabrini and Robert Taylor, etc., WY is a big improvement for the tenants because the high rises will be in the context of a more economically sound neighborhood that is not bereft of resources, transportation or social capital. However, there are 4 issues which local residents have every right to question about this plan. They are:

    1) the distribution of these new developments throughout the city (most new housing for former CHA tenants is going in majority Black or Hispanic neighborhoods. This Uptown location helps the city beat that rap.)
    2) the density of affordable housing in this census tract and in Uptown generally. How well are we already managing our "economically mixed" community? It takes more than saying "here's something for you" and "here's something for you" to create and sustain a neighborhood of this sort.
    3) why local TIF funds are going towards what will effectively be replacement CHA housing?
    4) how effectively are public monies being spent and who will be responsible for ensuring that this development continues to contribute positively to the community years after it is built?

    There are lots of resources for people to read up. Here is an excellent book review to get you started.

  5. saskia, these are some good points. One point you make that is especially valid is that building public housing in Uptown helps the city beat the rap that they are segregating public housing. "See, we are building in the north lakefront area too, not just on the south and west sides."

    The reality is that they have used Uptown to "beat that rap" for so long (with Alderman Helen Shiller's blessing and encouragement) that Uptown has reversed the trend of de-segregation of Chicago neighborhoods.

    Chicago is basically segregating those who live in public housing again, this time in Uptown rather than other parts of the city.

    All Shiller has to do is whisper "racism" or "classim" to the press and to politicians and she can get away with anything she wants. Her white crony's who also want to "stick it to the yup's" are all too glad to twist the truth to serve their chamipion of the poor, "saint" Helen.

    Too bad there aren't any good reporters left in Chicago who will do a serious journalistic story about what is really going on here. They all take the easy road by using the same old "haves vs. have nots struggle" perspective in their news coverage.

    Ask yourself why two people from Couraj get several minutes of video news coverage to express their hatred of condo owners but close to a hundred marchers protesting the inaction of the Alderman against crime gets none, nada, zip.

    The reporters may also feel too intimidated by Helen's threats to take on that journalistic challenge.

    There is really an interesting story that will sell newspapers if someone does some serious, in depth journalistic reporting. Maybe a new editorship at the Trib will help free up some true journalism.

    We can only hope.

  6. As long as the Trib owns the Cubs and Wrigley Field, and the Cubs get virtually free parking on a few acres of city property behind Graceland Cemetery (courtesy of Helen), the Trib will be supportive of her. This is Chicago where money talks and the Trib is no different when it comes to money.

    After the sale of Wrigley Field, it might be a different matter.

  7. Saskia,

    The failed housing project in the photo has nine stories, which apparently the police couldn't manage because of the height. The WY development is going to be seven. Please explain to me how this makes all the difference? Won't the crime still happen seven stories up behind walls as you say?

    And if its not possible to build affordable housing skyward, then there will never be enough affordable housing in the city. There just isn't enough land to give every CHA housing person a nice little townhouse or duplex.

  8. Surely, the height and the physical isolation certainly lead to a number of problems once things started getting bad but these are not the most important factors in explaining what went wrong with CHA housing. So, for people looking at the prospects of future developments it is important not to just see "towers" and think "uh-oh."

    That being said, there is little I see about this development that looks cutting edge and proactive. We could very well be facing "a future slum" as the urban planner called it, but for reasons slightly different than what has been offered here. In some ways it is unchartered territory because the gang problem developed out of the problems of the CHA housing mess but it is still with us because people are not aging out of gangs and because they have gone corporate. Of course that is a taboo subject around here because the Shillerites don't want to acknowledge that there is a relationship between public housing and the drug trade. However much we'd like to, we can't set the clock back and pretend that what happened since the late 80s didn't happen. I'm the last one to want to say anything that would appear to be "criminalizing poverty" but fetishizing the poor doesn't do anyone any favors either.

  9. So, is anybody willing to write an editorial for the Tribune and ask why they moving from this type of housing as they begin constructing the same type of housing at WY?

    I have no problem putting my name on this. And before someone pops on here and says I'm just someone whining on a message board and not doing anything, I know there are people on this site who are much more knowledgeable than I am about the whole plan. I'd rather it be a cogent, well reasoned and fact supported letter which I don't I can adequately do. Hopefully, we can get plenty of names on this thing.

  10. There is really an interesting story that will sell newspapers if someone does some serious, in depth journalistic reporting. Maybe a new editorship at the Trib will help free up some true journalism.

    Sounds like a job for the Reader...

  11. I've called the Reader's Ben Joravsky a few times over the years with story ideas that he actually followed through on. Same with their arts reporter Deanna Isaacs. It's as easy as picking up your phone.

    However, I don't think a story that disputes the efficacy of public housing is in the Reader's editorial radar.* But it doesn't hurt to try.

    * Friends and I used to joke that whenever the Reader needed a heart-grabbing or hard-hitting cover story, it would simply dispatch one of its staff members to go cover some issue at Cabrini Green. Ira Glass and Alex Kotlowitz have also made huge careers for themselves by employing this modus operandi.

  12. I don't think a story that disputes the efficacy of public housing...

    You too have missed the unique opportunity that awaits a good reporter. It isn't about disputing the efficacy of public housing, it is about breaking through the confusion and the misinformation produced by both neo-cons and neoliberals. This country has no housing policy and we have swung from denial about housing related issues to bandaid solutions and back again. Chicago is a particularly interesting place to examine all of this because we have also added our special Daley machine corruption cherry on top of the problems.

  13. (Here's an interesting story from last week's SF Chronicle about how the Bay-area city of Antioch, CA, is "dealing" with an influx of Section Eight tenants from nearby Oakland. Not pretty, as we're not talking about high rise tenements here.)

    A group of African American, low-income tenants accused the city of Antioch in a lawsuit Wednesday of trying to drive them out of federally subsidized housing by creating a police squad to target blacks for arrests, harassment and pressure on their landlords to evict them.

    As more black families have been drawn to affordable housing in the Contra Costa County community, "the city has reacted with alarm and hostility to the newcomers, choosing to scapegoat them as the cause of economic downturn," lawyers for five renters declared in papers filed in federal court in San Francisco.

  14. What is your point, Billyjoe?

  15. Hey BillyJoe,, how is all the Section 8 housing where YOU live.. in Evanston...doing?

  16. Saskia: My point in posting the Antioch article is pretty much this: People seeking housing using S8 vouchers are pretty much damned regardless of what type of complex or area they move into. It also serves as an example that Uptown isnt the only community dealing with this issue.

    As for Evanston: There are low density scattered site housing developments in several areas of Evanston, even in areas considered desirable and high rent. I NEVER see people hanging in front of them, and I might have to point them out to you if you came to town. I dont know what government entity manages them, but they have been here since the late 70s. There's one, oh, I'd say three-four blocks from me just east of the S. Blvd. el stop.

    We also have S8 tenants, lots of senior housing, and lots of outpatient types (if you've ever walked Main St. during the day, you know what Im talking about. )

    Armchair view here, but Evanston's de-urbanized atmosphere, plus lots of monied residents, intellectuals, and NU students, along with uninterrupted parkways and 100,000s tall, mature trees, offset its myriad urban problems, even though not completely or nearly enough for most residents' tastes. Ald Steve Bernstein recently said that "crime is a fact of life" in Evanston, and that didnt sit well with a lot of people.

  17. Can I add that the Evanston YMCA is an excellent place for Evanstonians from all (and I do mean ALL) walks of life to interface in a truly caring and supportive environment. This adds to that de-urbanization I referred to, plus some real community building influence. Maybe that's what Uptown needs most--a community exercise facility like a Y where EVERYONE can meet.

  18. Interesting post, BillyJoe. Other UU readers have mentioned that Uptown could use a community center like they have in Lakeview. But with all of the money going to parking garages and WY, I guess there won't be anything left for something that might bring people together in a positive way. All we get is "here is some commercial development that I couldn't stop---so that is for you" and "since you got something, I'll just spend the rest of the public money however Daley and I see fit."

    That is "controlled growth" a la Helen Shiller.