Report gives CHA good and bad marks

September 3, 2009 3:21:46 PM PDT
A new report is out on the 10-year effort to transform Chicago's public housing. The CHA overhaul is receiving both praise and criticism. The report was put together by the housing advocacy group known as BPI. Taking a comprehensive look at all aspects of the 10-year-old public housing transformation, BPI blames the CHA for doing a poor job at relocating residents at the beginning of the overhaul. However, the report concludes that many public housing residents are living a better quality of life than they were before.

The end of an era: 10 years ago, the City of Chicago set out to transform public housing. The Robert Taylor Homes and others became victims of the wrecking ball.

The effort to rebuild public housing is the boldest and largest in the nation. Former Robert Taylor resident Lola Smith now lives in a brand new apartment near her old high-rise.

"It is better than the Robert Taylor (Homes)," Smith said.

But, Smith says it's not perfect, something the organization Business and Professional People for the Public Interest agrees with. In a report assessing the public housing transformation, the advocacy group criticizes the Chicago Housing Authority for failing to plan for the relocation of thousands of families.

"Many families wound up in racially-concentrated, high-poverty neighborhoods not much better than the ones they had left," said Alex Polikoff, BPI.

The BPI report also says the CHA has failed to provide adequate social service support for displaced residents and for those still living in the remaining high-rises. And while many of the high-rise projects have been converted into mixed-income developments, the report says the city must do more to keep people there.

"It's not CHA that can build the needed retail establishments. It's not CHA that can bring in the good schools that are needed if mixed-income communities are going to thrive over the long run. It's the power and leverage of City Hall," said Polikoff.

Despite the negatives, the report praises CHA for its bold vision to rebuild public housing, and the advocacy group says, overall, residents have a better quality of life now, something former Ida B. Wells resident Monica Thompson agrees with.

"It wasn't a community, it was just like the people were just thrown in there and stacked on top of each other. We're not stacked on top of each other anymore. We live like normal people and we feel like we're living like normal people," said Thompson, a current mixed-income community resident.

The BPI report also praises the CHA for a management change. The report says the new management team is seeking to improve the relocation and social service issues.

CHA responded to the BPI report with an eight-page statement. The CHA admits the transformation has not been perfect, but the CHA believes public housing has drastically improved.


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