Mayor Monday: The future of Chicago housing

December 13, 2010

Produced by Eight Forty-Eight

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(AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)
The last residents of Chicago's Cabrini-Green Housing Projects moved out of the high-rise apartments last week.

Updated 12/13/10 at 1:05 PM.

Last week Chicagoans watched the departure of the last resident of one of the city’s most iconic public-housing complexes, Cabrini-Green. For better or worse, the change in Chicago’s public housing stock is part of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s legacy. So on “Eight Forty-Eight’s” weekly Mayor Mondays broadcast, host Alison Cuddy talked housing with WBEZ South Side Bureau reporter Natalie Moore, Chicago magazine “Deal Estate” columnist Dennis Rodkin, and WBEZ’s architecture blogger Lee Bey, who is also Mayor Daley’s former chief of staff.

The panelists agreed that Daley’s legacy is mixed when it comes to public housing. Under Daley, the Chicago Housing Authority implemented its "Plan for Transformation". That project brought the demolition of high rises like Cabrini Green and the Robert Taylor Homes, in favor of mixed-income low rises. Life for some residents has improved. But, Moore said, not everyone who once lived in those high-rises has ended up in mixed-income housing—some have been moved to high-poverty, segregated neighborhoods, and thousands have fallen out of the system entirely.

Former Cabrini Green Resident J.R. Fleming said Cabrini was a community that offered amenities like job-training programs. Fleming co-founded the Anti-Eviction Campaign and after the last resident moved out on Friday, he told us that people are being pushed to places they don’t want to go. “A lot of folks in Cabrini [are] holding on because they know right now Cabrini Green…is one of the safest neighborhoods in Chicago. So who would want to be moved and forced into an area of violence?” 

Meanwhile, Bey pointed out that the demolition of high rises has resulted in a loss of density. He says that means those neighborhoods don’t get new public transportation or other public services based on demand.

“The problem with public housing wasn’t necessarily the warehousing of poor people,” he said. “The problem of public housing was the warehousing of poor people without the amenities… of stores, of good schools, of all those things.”

Bey said the same problem exists when it comes to development on the south side of Chicago. “What you really need is a critical mass of people,” he said. Over the years, neighborhoods have been demolished. “There’s huge tracts of land from 67th street, almost all the way into downtown,” Bey said. “So where do you begin? Where do you stick the shovel into the ground?”

That emptiness, and negative perceptions about poor people, Bey added, has left much of the south side without the investment it needs. Rodkin argued that this situation creates an opportunity for development without the displacement that’s been seen in other neighborhoods.

Music Button: Maserati, "Inventions", from the CD Inventions for the New Season, (Temporary Residence)