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Escaping the Hidden War: Safety Is the Biggest Gain for CHA Families

CHA Families and the Plan for Transformation Series

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Document date: August 11, 2010
Released online: August 11, 2010

Abstract

A main goal of the HOPE VI program was to improve public housing by replacing failed developments with healthy and safe communities that offer a better quality of life for residents. In 1999, when the Chicago Housing Authority's (CHA) Plan for Transformation began, the agency's large family developments were notorious for being among the most dangerous places in the nation.

This brief explores whether the safety gains for early relocates have been sustained and whether those who moved later have benefited equally— because these residents tended to be among the most vulnerable, there was good reason to think that they would not fare as well. We find that almost all former residents are now living in safer conditions and that improved safety and quality of life has been the greatest benefit of the Plan for Transformation for CHA residents.


The text below is an excerpt from the complete document. Read the full report in PDF format. Part of the CHA Families and the Plan for Transformation brief series.

Introduction

A main goal of the HOPE VI program was to improve public housing by replacing failed developments with healthy and safe communities that offer a better quality of life for residents. In 1999, when the Chicago Housing Authority's (CHA) Plan for Transformation began, the agency's large family developments were notorious for being among the most dangerous places in the nation. Decades of failed federal policies, managerial incompetence, financial malfeasance, and basic neglect had left these developments in an advanced state of decay, with overwhelming crime and violence and near-absolute gang dominance. During the 1990s, the CHA had fought an all-out war against the drug trafficking and violence in its developments, spending $500 million on such efforts as law enforcement "sweeps" intended to remove drug dealers and gangs from its buildings, inhouse police and security forces, and tenant patrols, none of which had any lasting effect on the crime and disorder (Popkin et al. 2000).

In 2001, before the HOPE VI redevelopment initiative began in Madden/Wells, respondents reported extreme problems with crime and disorder. Over 80 percent reported "big problems" with drug sales and drug use in their development and more than 70 percent reported "big problems" with shootings and violence. Residents' perceptions were supported by official crime statistics; in 2001, reported violent crime in Madden/Wells was more than two times that for the rest of the city. The CHA's plans for Madden/Wells called for demolishing the development and replacing it with a new mixed-income development called Oakwood Shores.

By 2005, about 60 percent of Madden/ Wells respondents had been relocated, most to the private market with vouchers. Respondents who had moved out reported dramatically improved circumstances— the proportion of voucher holders reporting big problems with drugs and violent crime fell by about 50 percentage points. However, the respondents still living in their original units in 2005 were living in conditions just as bad as in 2001. Indeed, circumstances were possibly worse; more than half of the development was empty and, according to respondents, gangs and drug dealers from recently closed developments, such as Robert Taylor Homes and Stateway Gardens, were moving into Madden/Wells in search of new territory. Finally, the remaining residents were disproportionately those who faced multiple challenges, such as substance abuse, mental illness, and criminal records (Popkin et al. 2008).

Because of the crime and rapidly deteriorating physical conditions— one building had to be closed on an emergency basis when the heat stopped working—the CHA accelerated the schedule for closing the development and relocated the last residents in August 2008. In 2009, all of the Madden/Wells Panel Study respondents were living in new housing, either in Oakwood Shores, in the private market, or in a rehabbed CHA development. This brief explores whether the safety gains for early relocatees have been sustained and whether those who moved later have benefited equally— because these residents tended to be among the most vulnerable, there was good reason to think that they would not fare as well. We find that almost all former residents are now living in safer conditions and that improved safety and quality of life has been the greatest benefit of the Plan for Transformation for CHA residents.

(End of excerpt. The full report is available in PDF format.)



Topics/Tags: | Children and Youth | Cities and Neighborhoods | Housing


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