Monday, October 5, 2015

Hallmark Housing Victory in Chicago

    Cabrini-Green was a Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) public housing project that became a symbol of the public housing deficiencies, ranging from crime to deplorable living conditions. The last of the buildings were demolished in 2011, leaving only a small set of row houses, built in the 1940s. When CHA failed to fulfill its long-standing commitment to rehabilitate the row houses and add public housing units, the Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Council, represented by LAF Chicago and Sidley Austin, brought a federal lawsuit. LAF Attorney Elizabeth Rosenthal stated the goal was to provide additional public housing in Near North Chicago, a quickly gentrifying neighborhood. The parties reached a settlement that requires the CHA to ensure that at least 176 of the rehabilitated row house units be set aside for low-income tenants. Additionally, the CHA agreed to create 1,800 total low-income units. Under the settlement, the new units must be completed by December 2022.

    The Francis Cabrini Row houses at the center of the settlement were originally built in 1942 as a part of the Chicago Housing Authority’s plan for ‘urban renewal.’ The CHA seemed to neglect the housing project for several years and sought to demolish it in the late 1990’s to begin work on their “Plan for Transformation.” The plan required demolishing thousands of units and rehabilitating them for public housing. Roughly 25 percent of the 586 row houses were rehabilitated and all high-rise apartments were demolished. However, all construction ceased in 2011. Influenced by the improving neighborhoods, CHA leaders sought to change the remainder of the site from public housing to mixed income housing. Though the CHA intended to rehabilitate the residual 440 row houses to meet the public housing needs, the houses sat unused for years.

    In their 2013 suit, the Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Council argued that hundreds of low-income units would be eliminated if the CHA incorporated mixed-income units into the site. And it would be extremely difficult to replace the units in a comparable neighborhood, the CHA would need to seek more affordable sites, which are typically located in high-poverty and segregated areas of Chicago. The row house residents would continue to be segregated into disenfranchised neighborhoods perpetuating the cycle of deepening poverty in specific communities.

    The settlement between the Advisory Counsel and the CHA is an encouraging compromise. The terms of the settlement allow the CHA to build mixed income housing where the row houses currently stand while guaranteeing that a minimum of 40% of the units created by the CHA will be for public housing. In addition, no less than 15% of the units are required be to affordable housing. The 146 row houses that were renovated as part of the Plan for Transformation will continue to be operated as public housing.

            This is a landmark victory under the Fair Housing Act that promises to make housing in a racially and economically diverse area accessible for at least 1,800 low-income families and individuals. The importance of this outcome for the future health and well being of those families cannot be overstated.

  1. Jon Seidel, Judge Oks Deal to Bring More Public Housing to Near North Side, Chicago Sun-Times, Sept. 17, 2015, http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/7/71/968082/cabrini-green-public-housing-settlement.
  2. Dawn Rhodes, Cabrini-Green Residents, CHA Settle Lawsuit – Adding Public Housing in Area, CHI. TRIB., Sept. 13, 2015, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-cabrini-green-settlement-met-20150913-story.html.
  3. The End of Cabrini-Green, TIME, http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,2034317,00.html (last visited October 1, 2015).
  4. Payton Chung, Short History of Cabrini-Green, Westnorth.com, http://westnorth.com/2003/01/02/short-history-of-cabrini-green (last visited October 1, 2015).
  5. Richard Florida, The U.S. Cities Where the Poor are Most Segregated From Everyone Else, The Atlantic City Lab, March 24, 2014, http://www.citylab.com/housing/2014/03/us-cities-where-poor-are-most-segregated/8655/.

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