Chicago: Heartless New Plan
to Destroy Public Housing

Revolutionary Worker #1027, October 24, 1999

On September 30 the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) released its new ten-year "Plan for Transformation." This is a plan for the elimination of public housing and the wholesale destruction of existing homes inhabited by poor people.

At the same time, this plan proposes a particularly perverse and sweeping form of "privatization": many different kinds of housing services and social programs are going to be abolished and the funds "saved" through these cuts will be pooled, and handed over as investment capital for key real estate interests within the city's ruling class.

Previous plans for demolishing Chicago's huge public housing projects have been proclaimed as models for the whole country. In line with this pattern, the new plan is already being hailed as yet another model for the destruction of public housing--even before its ugly details have been approved by federal authorities.

People Removal

At the heart of this new Chicago plan is the destruction of huge stretches of public housing that are the homes and communities of many tens of thousands of people, who are overwhelmingly poor and Black.

The plan calls for destroying 52 highrise housing projects--the equivalent of bulldozing a community of 16,000 homes. Phil Jackson, the new CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority, has said he expects all the highrises of the Chicago's huge Robert Taylor Homes would be gone in three to five years.

This plan calls for the building of new housing and the rehabilitating of old housing on many existing CHA sites. However those 24,000 new units would be "mixed income housing"--with as little as 40 percent of those units, 9,600 apartments, available to "low income" families. Many of the poor people who now live in the projects targeted for rehabbing will be replaced by new middle class or wealthy tenants.

In short, this plan will massively cut the amount of housing that is affordable to poor people.

Homelessness and New Ghettoization

A recent statement by Chicago's Coalition to Protect Public Housing (CPPH) reported that, according to the CHA's own figures, 104,000 families are currently looking to the CHA for affordable housing, as a refuge from homelessness. This includes people who are in CHA apartments, people who receive rent subsidies in private apartments, and people on various waiting lists.

At the end of this CHA "Plan for Transformation," the CHA will only have 9,600 units of "very low income" housing for those 104,000 "very low income" families. Less than one in ten of those who need them will have homes in the CHA. Cora Moore, the elected representative of residents in the Cabrini Green projects, asked the burning question: "Where are people going to go?"

In the past, the CHA has claimed it would build future public housing developments throughout this highly segregated city--including in white neighborhoods. Now, the Chicago Tribune noted, "CHA officials announced their intention to end the authority's scattered-site program--the historic but troubled effort to move poor, mostly black tenants from segregated developments to more economically integrated neighborhoods." These earlier scattered-site proposals were very controversial within a city power structure and a capitalist housing market that are deeply rooted in white supremacy and segregation--and now these proposals are being dropped.

The Chicago city government expects to disperse the people from the existing housing projects--by offering "Section 8 funds" to help pay for private apartments rented from landlords. And special funds are planned to encourage poor people to move to specific suburbs that "need labor." Meanwhile, a study by the University of Chicago shows that current Section 8 apartments have become overwhelmingly concentrated in poor Black and Latino communities. The Coalition to Protect Public Housing said: "We question how dumping people out of CHA buildings into other low income neighborhoods will improve the lot of CHA tenants." In many cases, Section 8 tenants are torn out of their existing communities and dumped, without a safety net, into even worse ghettoized housing. Many quickly face homelessness and the breakup of families.

Money for Real Estate Developers

"CHA's Transformation Plan transforms an agency that was a safety net for the poor into a welfare agency for the rich."

Coalition to Protect Public Housing

The new plan tries, in every way possible, to take money used to maintain public housing and turn it into capital for financing the city's real estate developers.

To accumulate funds, there have already been layoffs of 700 employees of the CHA--including clerks, maintenance workers and people running various social programs. And hundreds more are scheduled to be laid off by summer. The hated CHA housing police will be disbanded--so that in the future the intense harassment will be conducted by the equally hated regular Chicago police.

In addition, $20 million will be cut from various social programs for residents--slashing them by more than half--over a couple years. Plus, the CHA expects to cut $13 million by consolidating residents in fewer buildings and cutting off utilities in the buildings they plan to destroy. The Chicago authorities are making a special request to the federal government--to be allowed to borrow millions of dollars now, based on future federal funds the CHA is scheduled to get over the next ten years.

The plan uses these techniques to pool together $429 million that will then be offered as financial backing for various real estate developers who will rehab low-rise projects and build some new complexes--transforming low-income housing to "mixed income" housing.

In short, the Chicago ruling class will be liquidating public housing and cutting social services to gather massive amounts of capital to finance a "gold rush" of real estate profit-making. In the process low-income housing will shrink drastically, communities will be destroyed, and thousands of poor people will be thrown out of their homes. Even Mamie Bone, president of the usually conservative Central Area Council of CHA tenants has said, "You're going to see more homeless on the streets." State Senator Ricky Hendon announced, "Philip Jackson has declared war on public housing residents."

A Determination to Defend Their Homes and Communities

This plan was announced as resistance has been growing in the projects. In June, Chicago's public housing returned to control by the city government--and the destruction of the housing projected accelerated. Residents and activists have been circulating petitions and organizing protests against the closings.

In September CHA demanded that residents move out of 11 more highrise buildings by November 15. They claim they are consolidating residents in a few buildings in preparation for cold weather. In angry meetings, people talked of how their communities are being callously destroyed without any consideration. Progressive social workers are asking why the empty apartments are offered to people who need affordable housing--adding that it makes no sense to empty buildings to fill buildings--instead of filling buildings to fill buildings.

On September 26, 500 people crowded into a church in Robert Taylor Homes--the largest public housing development in the U.S. Tenants joined with the CHA workers who are facing layoffs--and together they confronted the head of the CHA in a scene that got more and more out of official control.

The federal department of Housing and Urban Development has announced it will hold public hearings on the plan.

Meanwhile Chicago's Coalition to Protect Public Housing is working to organize resistance to the whole attack on the poor and their homes. They have called for an October 28th march demanding an immediate end to the displacement of the people who live in public housing.

In the projects, "Fix 'em Up" campaigns are being organized by tenants and their supporters--taking on roaches and garbage together, while they discuss taking on the ruling class roaches who have targeted their lives. At one of the "Fix `Em Up" actions, one young woman told the RW that "It feels like a civil rights struggle." Her friend described how infuriating it was when the CHA's bullying "Relocation Specialists" try to talk her into moving by saying, "Just look out for Number One." She said, "This is about more than just me. I have a lot of family and friends in the projects. They will all be affected. How can I just think about myself?"

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