The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
August 10, 2011

Growing Opportunity in Chicago's Public Housing

August 10, 2011

In May, I shared the sad stories of children who had grown up during the worst days of Chicago’s public housing amid crime, drug trafficking, and disorder. Now we’ll reveal the flipside: some of the positive changes that may brighten the future of CHA’s children.

We are working with the CHA to design and implement a new service demonstration called HOST (Housing, Opportunity and Services Together). The aim is to use housing as a platform to test two-generation service models for vulnerable families. HOST builds on what we learned from our earlier work in Chicago about helping adults move toward self-sufficiency and stability and the need to find ways to reach youth and improve their life chances.

This week, we visited Altgeld Gardens, one of the five HOST sites.  Barack Obama got his start community organizing at Altgeld-- the largest of the CHA’s remaining traditional public housing developments and home to approximately 4,000 extremely poor residents. Altgeld sits in the most isolated, desolate corner of Chicago, on the far south side near the mostly-shuttered steel mills and factories surrounding Lake Calumet. Although the buildings have mostly been rehabilitated, Altgeld still suffers from all the ills of concentrated poverty—crime, disorder, troubled residents.

But there is one bright spot—the 2.5 acre Altgeld Gardens Farm. The Milwaukee-based non-profit Growing Power runs the farm, hiring and training adult residents to maintain it and training 80 youth who do much of the work and reap the benefit of eating what they grow.  Now in its second year, the farm is so successful that the youth are about to start a farmer’s market for the community. Long starved for access to healthy foods, Altgeld residents will be able to purchase fresh vegetables at reduced prices.

Altgeld Gardens Farm, Chicago (2011)

The young people we met who work on the farm were enjoying themselves despite the oppressive heat. They are acquiring work skills, getting exercise, having fun, taking pride in their work, and learning to enjoy healthy foods.

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