National Public Housing Museum - After the Plan: What Happened to Public Housing Families?

While the National Public Housing Museum doesn’t yet have facilities open to the public, they’ve continued to provide excellent programming for the community. They organized a panel discussion about Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation. After the Plan featured academics Mary Pattillo and Amy Khare, as well as CHA Assistant Director of Resident Engagement (and NPHM board member) Crystal Palmer, and Housing Choice Partners Executive Director Chris Klepper. The panelists discussed the fate of public housing residents after the demolition of so many housing units, each from their unique point of view.

I appreciated the fact that given the diverse background of the individuals speaking, both the positive and negative outcomes of CHA resident relocation were addressed. The improvements in existing public housing units were discussed, including health and safety measures and access to resident services. The benefits of moving, the “opportunity area” effect, of improved physical and mental health, higher income, better grades for children, and higher college enrollment for teenagers were also addressed. While residents forced to moved may have faced discrimination in a new community and a difficult housing market, some believe the benefits outweigh or at least counterbalance the downsides of remaining in traditional public housing buildings.

The more critical view of the Plan for Transformation took into account the recession, and how outside circumstances led, in part, to a failure to create housing at the rate the CHA demolished units. This has led to a shift in newly vacant land being set aside for housing to any development, including commercial spaces. The question many ask as a result of these priority shifts, is does the Plan actually benefit CHA residents in alleviating high-density poverty, or is it simply shifting the land back to the affluent? As mixed development developments have become the new “solution” to the traditional public housing “problem,” residents are often forced to handle the market economy on their own. And neighborhoods and communities with Section 8 housing, units CHA residents can rent with vouchers, often express a “more than our fair share” mentality about this housing. There is a continued fear of a concentration of the underprivileged and a stigma against those from public housing. The poor continue to be blamed for community problems even though crime is a symptom of economic inequalities.

So much of the focus on public housing is the history of the high rise, and its perceived failure. It is refreshing to hear about the work so many are doing to address what is happening now, what the future may hold for those pushed out of the high rises and other traditional public housing units.