Chicago CHA History
By 1950, public housing projects had risen in cities across the country. Their advocates in the National Housing Conference declared these projects a success, asserting that they had given low-income families their first opportunity to live in a decent, healthy environment. And the benefits, they claimed, extended to cities as a whole. By improving the social ills bred by slums public housing had saved taxpayers vast costs for police, fire, health and crime protection.
Architecture, racism and even good intentions have conspired to create a poverty trap in Chicago's housing projects. As elsewhere, public housing was first designed in the 1930s as transitional housing for the working poor, often with stiff eligibility requirements that screened out the neediest. Chicago's special problems were born in the 1950s when local politicians, including the mayor, Richard J. Daley, began to use public housing to segregate the city's rapidly growing black population.
The result was hulking high-rises in poor black neighbourhoods, the worst of which was an uninterrupted four-mile stretch of public housing on the city's south side. The Robert Taylor Homes were more than two dozen 16-storey buildings, identical except for the color of their brick and the way they face. The result was the biggest concentration of poverty in America.
The problems with public housing go far beyond the physical dilapidation of many housing projects. First, public housing has come to be dominated by, as well as to encourage the formation of low-income single-parent households, with all the social problems 'that such families bring. At the same time, because the land on which public housing stands is designated for a single, unchanging purpose, it creates what could be called a "frozen city," a poorhouse that stands in the way of the regeneration of cities. Far from benefiting...