Chicago Housing Authority abbreviated as CHA, was established in 1937 by the state of Illinois and had the jurisdiction for the administrative oversight of the public housing within the Chicago city. The mission of the agency is guided by a Board of commissioners who are appointed by the mayor of the city. This agency has a budget which is independent to that of the City of Chicago. This agency has built a number of public housing projects over the last few years. The agency was hit by a setback in 1966 when a suit was brought against the agency. This forced the US department of Housing and urban Development to take over the Chicago Housing Authority. The book Blueprint for Disaster: The Unraveling of Chicago Public Housing by D. Bradford Hunt attempts to give an explanation on what might have gone wrong with the Chicago public housing through a detailed historical review. Some of the reasons that are given for the situation include the high ratio of youth to adults, some infamous projects initiated by the Chicago Housing Authority. In responding to these situations the administrators of the federal public housing stressed on cutting the cost of construction. This appeased the Congressional critics and later on led to a depressed quality of life for different generations (page 10). The Chicago Housing authority was initiated so as to provide temporary homes for the families in the city that were considered neediest. The families that were to be housed under this program could only find housing in the Chicago’s dangerously overcrowded ghettos. However, this project was dismissed as warehouses for the poor.
The author states that the working class dropped from more than 50% before 1967 to about 10% in the 1980s. During this time, Chicago had a shortage of private sector housing therefore public housing was more desirable. The working class then left public housing in the 1960s when private housing was made available.
There was a complicated policy and political issue that marred the implementation of the project. The project was a good project that could see a good percentage of the poor citizens housed in the country. However, the process of implementing this policy was no very easy as politicians had different interests during the implementation phase. Blunders had been foreseen but there was no one who was able to speak out so as to prevent the occurrence of such blunders. The author argues that the project had very good intentions. However, all these were marred by misguided policy decisions (Page 22). Some of the misguided policy decisions included making wrong design choices and making wrong maintenance contracts. There were some administrators who also understood the potential drawbacks of the project but they did nothing in order to hatch such fully flawed processes. Cabrini-Green and Robert Taylor Homes were some of the projects that were not of any good but the administrators did not do anything in order to stop them from being implemented. These projects which housed a large number of children with fewer adults were some of the main sources of lack of order in the project implementation. The disorder caused in these buildings pushed the working class out thus leading to lack of proper rent collection systems which was really needed to maintain the buildings. These became the source of predicament which plunged the Chicago housing authority into a swamp a situation that it is still dealing with to date. The Blue print for disaster can therefore be said to be a reminder of how a poorly conceived policy can be a disaster and cause problems to the vulnerable citizens.
According to the author, the high ratio of youths to the adults caused some chaos in the high rise towers that had been constructed. The author adds that since the ratio of adults to youths was low, there was no proper monitoring of the youths and this led to chaos. He adds that one of the most crime ridden areas was the Robert Taylor homes whereby there were about three children to one adult. This in turn led to lack of supervisory actions by the parents thus leading to high rate of crimes in such areas.
According to the author, another major cause of the decline in public housing was the high rise design of the houses. The politicians were involved in debates on how to cut the costs. The politicians were really obsessed with this aspect of cost cutting which even made them to promote the building of 50 units per acre as the ideal density. This also led to the building of tall buildings so as to minimize the cost at site-work. This act forced Mayor Richard Daley to beg congress to end the cost cutting initiatives so as to build normal Chicago communities with the federal program.
It can be noted that the policy choices that were made by the players in the industry resulted to the slamming of the project. The major driving force as can be noted from the book is that the public housing changed from working class housing to welfare housing in the early 1970s. This was so because it could not match the offerings of private housing down the path. The Housing Act of 1937 was meant at shaping the public opinions about the urban slums. The bill actually represented a compromise between progressive slum reformers and the modern housing planners. This act established three principles that defined the program for quite some time.
The author ascertains that the location of the postwar public housing in Chicago was mainly determined by the racists’ actions of the whites. From this description, we can see that most of the actions that were taken during the initiation of the project, was mainly caused by self interests of the people who were charged with the responsibilities of implementing the project. Most of the public housing reformers also had very little interest in the rehabilitation of slum neighbors. The public housing was hijacked by some racist forces that imposed state sponsorship on residential segregation.
It can also be noted from this book that the city of Chicago had tight control on the board of directors of the Chicago housing Authority. One of the most notable tenures was that of Charles Swible. Due to a difference in interests by different players in the industry, the project came into shambles in the 1980. The CHA was brought down by the so called Institutional racism and high rise structures that were constructed. Even though the main intention of the initiation of the project was to house the poorest members of the society the project became stalled due to a difference in opinions in terms of policies and political affiliations. The corrupt nature of the CHA organization also resulted into the project being stalled. The history proves that CHA and public housing was at its worse in the 1980s and part of the1990s.Its clear that CHA started with absolutely best intentions which were non-partisan in nature but due to lack of clear-cut strategies they failed to provide housing to the more deserving and needy citizens. Among some of the reasons why they interfered with social change and kept racial integrations was the fact that they listened to what the Chicago political class had to say. Unlike some of the city agencies and various departments at large that were also as corrupt as the CHA, undoubtedly the implications were great in a more negative manner as far as human life was concerned.
In the last chapters of the book, we see a desegregation case and a rebirth of public housing which covers the messy attempts of correcting the Chicago public housing. The author views the transformation that took place in the 1990s as an important initiative in acknowledging the failure of the high-rise public housing and how it was received by different city dwellers. However the author also acknowledges that this plan may not be favorable for the poorest people in the society.
There is however a difference in opinion especially for the policy makers and the historians on the explanations of what transpired in public housing. The book is actually a necessary contribution to the consideration of public housing in Chicago. It points on to missed opportunities for the Chicago Public housing so as to heed to the warning signs and change some course and policies at the local federal levels which can lead to the demise of public housing.
I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to get the history of the Chicago housing Authority and what might have gone wrong with the project that had very good intentions. This will hopefully assist in bringing at least a more humane and effective scheme to future ventures not in Chicago but also in other parts of the country that are in need of the same kind of attention and once this is realized then some good work will be considered to have been done. These parameters look at some of the great and interesting view at the history of Chicago Housing Authority. Details relating to how public housing got started in the US and also how it formed in Chicago is covered too. It is explained explicitly in this book about the rise and fall of the “second ghetto” in Chicago thus its good read and full of so much information to gather.
The Chicago housing Authority was a very good project which was aimed at housing the poor and providing them with a more secure and safe housing. However, due to a difference in policies during the implementation, some people viewed the project as a warehouse for the poor. There was also political influence that further made the situation worse. This led a project that was initially initiated for the benefits of the members of the society turning out to be a failed project. A person who reads the book with an unbiased mind can be able to get what happened during the initial stages of implementing the project and what made the project to fail. The book can help a person have a good judgment and make the right decisions as far a project implementation is concerned.
Work cited list
D. Bradford Hunt. Blueprint for Disaster: The Unraveling of Chicago Public Housing. The
University of Chicago Press. 2009