As I describe in No Simple Solutions, my involvement with public housing began in Chicago 30 years ago, long before there was any thought of tearing down the high-rises and replacing them with something better. After following the story of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and its residents for many years, I came to the conclusion then that there was nothing else they could do. There was no way to make those places habitable. There was no way to deal with the crime. I hear from a lot of activists who say, ‘How could you have taken away people’s homes? This is terrible.’ Yes, it is terrible. Involuntary displacement is terrible. But people were living in absolute squalor and residents—especially children—were suffering. But fixing the buildings was not enough. We need policies that support vulnerable families and solutions that address the chronic violence that plagues our poorest, most racially segregated communities. Until we effectively address those problems, we can expect that the children who live in CHA and other high-poverty communities will fare little better—perhaps even worse—than their parents.
Susan J. Popkin is director of the Urban Institute’s Housing Opportunities and Services Together (HOST) Initiative and an Institute fellow in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center. A nationally recognized expert on public and assisted housing policy, Popkin directs a research program that uses community engagement and community-based participatory approaches to explore new strategies for improving outcomes for families, and she conducts evaluations of complex community-based interventions. Popkin is the author of No Simple Solutions: Transforming Public Housing in Chicago; coauthor of the award-winning Moving to Opportunity: The Story of an American Experiment to Fight Ghetto Poverty; lead author of The Hidden War: Crime and the Tragedy of Public Housing in Chicago; and coauthor of Public Housing Transformation: The Legacy of Segregation.