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Settlement Could End Landmark Housing Discrimination Case

The Gautreaux case, filed against the Chicago Housing authority more than 50 years ago, could be concluded if federal judge approves.

SHARE Settlement Could End Landmark Housing Discrimination Case
A wrecking ball tears away at one of several Cabrini-Green public housing project buildings in 1995.

A wrecking ball tears away at one of several Cabrini-Green public housing project buildings in 1995.

AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser

Lawyers behind a landmark housing discrimination lawsuit and the Chicago Housing Authority have reached a settlement that could bring the long-standing litigation to an end. It outlines details for the future of subsidized public housing in Chicago.

On Friday, the Chicago Housing Authority and lawyers representing public housing residents asked U.S. District Judge Marvin Aspen to approve their proposed settlement of the 52-year-old litigation. The suit sought to end systematic racial discrimination in public housing in Chicago.

If approved, the settlement would create a road map to bring an end to the litigation in 2024, building on desegregation requirements the lawsuit has imposed on CHA for decades. The benchmarks require CHA to take concrete steps, such as helping families move to higher-income and better integrated neighborhoods and develop more mixed-income housing.

The class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of Dorothy Gautreaux and other CHA residents in 1966. The lawsuit challenged the concentration of more than 10,000 public housing units in mostly black neighborhoods in Chicago.

The lawsuit said CHA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had violated both the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees all citizens equal protection under the law and the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlawed racial discrimination in programs receiving federal funding.

The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976. The court sided with the plaintiffs. The ruling brought the CHA under court-ordered supervision and created the Gautreaux Assisted Housing Program, the country’s first major housing mobility program. In Chicago that included new programs such as scattered site housing in integrated communities in the city and suburbs.

“Racial residential segregation ... is a pervasive problem in this country and has been for decades,” said Alexander Polikoff, an attorney who’s represented public housing CHA residents since the lawsuit was filed in 1966. “No one lawsuit, no one step, no one action is going to remedy that problem ... Gautreaux has maybe chipped away at the edges to an extent, particularly in the subsidized housing context.”

Under the settlement, CHA agrees to follow a detailed schedule to plan and build mix-income housing it promised under its 1999 plan to transform its public housing stock, strengthen its subsidized voucher program to help families move to better-off and less racially isolated areas, and create early childhood programs at four public housing complexes. Those will replicate a program at the Altgeld Gardens housing development on the Far South Side.

Polikoff, who works for BPI, the nonprofit advocacy group that represents CHA plaintiffs in this case, said he had been negotiating with CHA for over a year. He said the process was amicable and that CHA wanted to end the historic litigation.

In a written statement, CHA CEO Eugene Jones appeared to agree with that assessment. “In the three years that I have had the privilege of leading CHA, I have been impressed with the partnerships formed by the CHA, BPI, community leaders and resident leaders and with the commitment of CHA staff to equitable access to decent and safe housing, good schools, community amenities, training, jobs and parks and recreation for all who depend on CHA for their housing,” Jones wrote.

Judge Aspen is expected to hold a “fairness hearing” on Jan. 17, 2019, where current CHA residents and Chicagoans on the public housing waiting lists can share their views on the agreement. A final ruling will follow.

María Ines Zamudio covers immigration for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @mizamudio.

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