National Public Housing Museum breaks ground at site of former Jane Addams Homes in Chicago

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Tuesday, October 11, 2022
National Public Housing Museum breaks ground in Chicago
The National Public Housing Museum will be housed in the last standing building of the former Jane Addams Homes on the Near West Side.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- After more than 15 years, the National Public Housing Museum finally broke ground in Chicago Tuesday.

"Addressing the history of injustice is one of the primary reasons that we exist as a museum," said Lisa Lee, NPHM executive director.

The museum will be housed in the last standing building at the former site of the Jane Addams Homes on the Near West Side, which is part of the ABLA Homes public housing complex.

"It was decent housing and it was a place for people who weren't wealthy or didn't have a lot of money to live," said Allen Schwartz, former Jane Addams Homes resident.

An exhibit will feature three apartments restored with historical artifacts from different eras in public housing. Those include items from when Rev. Marshall Hatch's family lived there.

Almost everyone involved in the project, including board member Sunny Fischer, has lived in public housing either in Chicago or somewhere else.

"We need to tell the good, the bad, and the ugly," Fischer said.

Public housing communities sprang up in major cities after Congress passed the Housing Act of 1937. Originally built for white families, they eventually became home to poor minority populations.

"Public housing ultimately became the shame of the nation," said Tracey Scott, CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority.

The issue of violence and crime in public housing grabbed headlines in the spring of 1981 when then-Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne temporarily moved into an apartment in the infamous Cabrini Green Housing Projects following 10 gang-related murders there in three months.

The museum's creators said it will not only give a history of public housing, but also insight into the stories that are part of the fabric of the City of Chicago. Donations help to pay for the multi-million dollar project, which also includes mixed income housing.

"We've had good times. We've had bad time. We've stepped over dead bodies and we've danced at weddings. It's a great place to live despite the problems," said Francine Washington, public housing resident and museum advisor.