What went wrong with public housing in Chicago?

September 24, 2009
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jacket imageThis week’s Chicago Reader has an excellent piece on the failure of Chicago’s infamous housing projects and D. Bradford Hunt’s new book on the subject Blueprint for Disaster: The Unraveling of Chicago Public Housing. Hunt offers a fresh and insightful look at why the highrise buildings of the Chicago Housing Authority became dilapidated post-apocalyptic wastelands that are now largely demolished. The Reader‘s Deanna Isaacs writes:

Amid all the unemployment, poverty, and broken families, the institutional racism, political corruption, and bureaucratic incompetence, Hunt believes he’s found a relatively simple answer to the question of what went wrong with public housing in Chicago: too many kids. Taking into account all the other influences, he says, that was the single most important factor. The decisions that put multibedroom apartments filled with youngsters into hard-to-access towers were the CHA’s blueprint for disaster.
Hunt wants to make it clear that he doesn’t blame “families for having lots of kids, or single mothers. The tenants are the victims here,” he says. “They wanted what everyone wants: building maintenance, security, and decent schools for their kids—and they fought to make the buildings work.” The devil is in “the policy choices.” The projects became ungovernable because there weren’t enough adults, he says. “This concentration of people under 21 years old was unprecedented in the urban experience.”

Hunt argues that these misguided policy decisions—made on both the federal and municipal levels—engendered disorder that pushed out the working class and, consequently, the rents needed to maintain the buildings. The resulting combination of fiscal crisis, managerial incompetence, and social unrest plunged the CHA into a social quagmire in which it still struggles.
To find out more about Hunt’s take on the failure of the Chicago projects pick up a copy of this week’s Reader or find the article online here.

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