What Happens to Displaced Public Housing Residents?

by Lauren Goldstein
Advocacy and Community Organizing Intern

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As part of JCUA’s work with the Chicago Housing Initiative’s “Lease Up!” campaign, we have been engaged in research on public housing in Chicago. Specifically, we are gathering data on where residents move when they are displaced from their homes due to demolition or redevelopment, and what those towns look like.

Given that part of the goal of the Plan for Transformation involves creating a less isolating environment for residents both racially and economically, we wanted to find out if these goals are being met. The question is: Where are Chicago’s public housing residents moving, and what kinds of opportunities exist once they arrive there.

The Facts

study done at UIC shows that between 2000 and 2007, 55% of moves within Illinois of public housing residents occurred between the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and the Housing Authority of Cook County (HACC).  We looked into what towns in Cook County do have public housing developments in them, so that we could then paint a better picture of what life looks like in these new communities.

Chicago’s public housing residents moved to many different towns in Cook County, and we learned that many of them, over time, have in fact become racially segregated. Many of these towns…

  • … have a racial composition that has an above-average population percentage of African-Americans when compared to Illinois at large. The same is true for the population percentages of Latino families.
  • … have above-average levels of unemployment.
  • … have an average commute to work of approximately a half an hour car drive (which can be difficult for people lacking an automobile).
  • … have significantly below-average levels of people above the age of 25 who have received at least a high school degree and/or a Bachelor’s degree.

Take Harvey, IL for example:

  • Harvey, IL has an unemployment rate of 14.9%.
  • The population percentages of both African Americans and Latinos are significantly above state average.
  • The percentage of the population with a bachelor’s degree is significantly below state average.

We Deserve Policies that Achieve Intended Goals

Why would we continue to displace families from Chicago and move them to towns with less economic opportunity? What kind of opportunity can truly exist where levels of unemployment are that high and where it requires an average commute of 34 minutes to get to work? If the demolition of public housing is in part supposed to lead to less racial and economic isolation, greater economic development of neighborhoods, and a decrease in crime, then why does the CHA continue to move families to places that in some cases offer the exact opposite?

These types of displacement need to stop. We must recognize that by demolishing public housing units in Chicago, the city is not demolishing the dire NEED for public housing. For every unit crushed there remains a family in need (not to mention the thousands of people who remain on the ever-growing waitlist…).

By citing a need for racial and economic integration, but then proceeding to move families to communities offering the very opposite, the city is sending a message to the residents that isn’t in line with what they claim the goals of the Plan for Transformation to be. More importantly, this policy further distresses thousands of Chicagoans and their families.

The JCUA firmly believes that every person has the right to a home, and we hope that our work with the CHI Lease Up! campaign will serve to advance this right to the thousands of CHA residents either facing demolition of their homes or still waiting for a home to begin with.

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This research is being conducted by Lauren Goldstein, an intern at the JCUA. If you would like to intern with us, or know someone who would, click here for more information.

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