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Integrating the Inner City: The Promise and Perils of Mixed-Income Public Housing Transformation

Integrating the Inner City: The Promise and Perils of Mixed-Income Public Housing Transformation

by Robert J. Chaskin, Mark L. Joseph


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For many years Chicago’s looming large-scale housing projects defined the city, and their demolition and redevelopment—via the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation—has been perhaps the most startling change in the city’s urban landscape in the last twenty years. The Plan, which reflects a broader policy effort to remake public housing in cities across the country, seeks to deconcentrate poverty by transforming high-poverty public housing complexes into mixed-income developments and thereby integrating once-isolated public housing residents into the social and economic fabric of the city. But is the Plan an ambitious example of urban regeneration or a not-so-veiled effort at gentrification?

In the most thorough examination of mixed-income public housing redevelopment to date, Robert J. Chaskin and Mark L. Joseph draw on five years of field research, in-depth interviews, and volumes of data to demonstrate that while considerable progress has been made in transforming the complexes physically, the integrationist goals of the policy have not been met. They provide a highly textured investigation into what it takes to design, finance, build, and populate a mixed-income development, and they illuminate the many challenges and limitations of the policy as a solution to urban poverty. Timely and relevant, Chaskin and Joseph’s findings raise concerns about the increased privatization of housing for the poor while providing a wide range of recommendations for a better way forward.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226478197
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 01/25/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 363
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Robert J. Chaskin is professor and deputy dean at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and director of the University of Chicago Urban Network. He is the author or editor of several books, including, most recently, Youth Gangs and Community Intervention. Mark L. Joseph is associate professor in the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University and director of the National Initiative on Mixed-Income Communities. He is coauthor of Voices from the Field: Learning from Comprehensive Community Initiatives.

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Integrating the Inner City

The Promise and Perils of Mixed-Income Public Housing Transformation

By Robert J. Chaskin, Mark L. Joseph

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2015 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-30390-1


Concentrated Poverty, Public Housing Reform, and the Promise of Integration

Public housing in Chicago has long been recognized as a massive failure of public policy. What began, in this city as elsewhere in the United States, as an effort to provide temporary, decent, and affordable housing to people suffering economic hardship in the wake of the Great Depression became, within a few decades, emblematic of the country's worst concentrated urban poverty and racial segregation. Indeed, the slum clearance and public housing expansion begun under urban renewal in the mid-twentieth century actively exacerbated the concentration of poverty and racial isolation.

As the third largest public housing authority in the United States and its most widely recognized calamity — so much so that the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) placed the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) under receivership from 1995 through 1999 — the problems with public housing in Chicago and the challenges faced (and resilience demonstrated) by its residents have been the subject of numerous scholarly treatments and journalistic exposés. Piecemeal efforts to respond to the most obvious problems — crime, violence, poor sanitation and maintenance, unemployment, concentrated poverty, racial isolation — were insufficient or ineffective at best, intensifying or additive at worst.

In response, after regaining control of the housing authority from the federal government, in February 2000 Mayor Richard M. Daley announced the launch of the city of Chicago's Plan for Transformation, a dramatic and ambitious program to profoundly transform the city's public housing. The largest and most extensive effort of its kind, the Plan for Transformation is part of a broader policy trend, nationally and internationally, focused on deconcentrating urban poverty and addressing the problems that have become endemic to many public housing communities over the past half-century. In Chicago the effort is comprehensive, entailing massive demolition and redevelopment, the relocation of 25,000 households with over 56,000 individuals, and fundamental changes to the institutional roles and division of labor among those responsible for developing, maintaining, and managing public housing. The effort has been significantly aided by the CHA's participation in HUD's Moving to Work program, which provides the housing authority with considerable fiscal flexibility in making strategic decisions about resource allocation. Through these efforts, Chicago's Plan for Transformation seeks, as President Bill Clinton once said of the welfare reform legislation of 1996, to remake public housing as we know it.

At the center of the Plan is a stated emphasis on integration — on breaking down the barriers that have left public housing residents isolated in racially segregated, severely economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and, through relocation and community development, incorporating them into the broader contexts, institutions, and opportunities provided by the city as a whole. Beyond its investment in physical development, the CHA makes clear, the Plan for Transformation "aims to build and strengthen communities by integrating public housing and its leaseholders into the larger social, economic and physical fabric of Chicago."

The focus on integration is meant to operate at several levels. It includes integrating public housing residents spatially, both into existing housing in the subsidized private market by providing vouchers and into new developments being built as mixed-income communities on the footprint of large public housing complexes that have been demolished. It includes integrating these new neighborhoods into the street grid and spatial fabric of the city. It includes integrating public housing residents socially into communities with different income groups and housing tenures (renters and owners, subsidized and market-rate) and, to some extent, into more racially and ethnically diverse neighborhoods — although it is important to note that the principal focus is on economic, rather than racial, integration. It includes the integration of formerly separate service systems for public housing complexes — policing, sanitation, and social services — into the systems intended for all residents of the city. And it includes, in principle at least, the integration of public housing residents into the normative mechanisms and rhythms of urban life, through engagement in the market and in civil society, in their neighborhoods and in the city at large.

These integrationist claims, however, are fraught with controversy, challenges, complications, and doubt. Critiques have been leveled at the basic theoretical assumptions behind the effort and at how far empirical evidence supports these assumptions. They have included claims and counterclaims about intent and impact, about the promise and limitations of the market-driven logic and neoliberal policy framework under which the Transformation operates, and about the processes, competing interests, and ultimate goals of the policy. Is such sweeping reform an example of urban regeneration or revanchism? Will it generate integration or displacement? What kinds of communities will emerge, for whom, and to whose benefit?

This book interrogates these broad issues, exploring in particular one component of the broader Transformation — the re-creation of urban space and the dynamics of integration through the development of mixed-income communities on the footprint of former public housing complexes. Much research to date on public housing reform, in Chicago and elsewhere, has focused on the history and etiology of public housing's failure, or its relative success, or on the effects of demolishing public housing and relocating residents. In contrast, here we focus on public housing reform as a mechanism of community revitalization and integration — an intentional effort, driven by public policy but relying to a large extent on market processes and operating through public-private partnerships, to reclaim and rebuild neighborhoods while fundamentally reshaping public housing's role in responding to urban poverty.

Seen through this lens, the intent, implementation, and emerging outcomes of what has become a defining policy response to concentrated urban poverty and public housing failure raise a set of specific, fundamental questions. What are the motivating assumptions, arguments, and interests that drive these mixed-income efforts? What is the nature of the new communities being built? What are the strategies, mechanisms, and social processes that shape their community dynamics? What are the apparent benefits and costs to public housing residents? To the city? To addressing urban poverty more broadly?

The chapters that follow will explore these questions in some detail. First we need to set the stage by outlining the key circumstances and arguments — regarding concentrated poverty, public housing reform, and the promise of integration — that shape the Plan for Transformation and similar policy efforts.

Stepping Back: Demographic Change, Deindustrialization, and the "New Urban Poverty"

The problems of concentrated poverty are by now well known and have become orthodox in framing arguments about both the nature of urban poverty and appropriate ways to address it. Catalyzed in large part by William Julius Wilson's seminal 1987 book The Truly Disadvantaged, scholarship on urban poverty burgeoned in the 1990s after nearly two decades of relative quiescence. This work reignited debates on the causes and consequences of the urban crisis that raged in the aftermath of urban renewal and that led, first, to a substantial public policy response under the Johnson administration's War on Poverty and, soon thereafter, to significant government withdrawal from policies focused on the problems of urban America.

The emergence of this "new urban poverty" was driven by a set of economic and demographic changes that led to alterations in the nature and pattern of urbanization in most older industrial cities in the United States. Many of these changes began earlier but accelerated with particular force and impact after World War II and came to a head in the 1960s and 1970s. These included changes in the patterns of in-migration to central cities, increased population mobility out of central cities to suburban communities in the greater metropolitan area, changes in the structure of the urban economy and the geographic distribution of economic opportunity, and, particularly beginning in the 1970s, the emergence of other cities, especially in the South and West, as economic and population growth centers. The most dramatic changes can be traced to the 1940s, when investments in the war effort helped move the country out of the throes of economic depression, reinvigorated industrial production, and reshaped the workforce, bringing a significant influx of African American migrants from the rural South to northern cities. Although this internal migration had begun earlier, the prospect of well-paid industrial work in the factories of the North, along with economic dislocation in the rural South, accelerated the process; some three million African Americans migrated north between 1940 and 1960 — double the number that had migrated over the previous three decades.

But as the population of African Americans in northern industrial cities grew, the urban landscape was changing in a number of ways. Housing shortages and policies supporting racial segregation led to severe overcrowding in black neighborhoods and the expansion of black "ghetto" areas. In addition to racial strife, this also led to the increasing exodus of white city dwellers — accelerated by "redlining" and "block busting" practices of banks and real estate professionals — many to resettle in the suburbs that were rapidly growing up around them. Suburban growth was in part fostered by federal policy supporting highway construction, homeowner subsidies, and suburban housing development. In addition, by the late 1960s fair housing laws began to make leaving the central city easier for middle-class blacks, increasing the relative poverty of the neighborhoods they left behind.

In addition to the population exodus, many industrial firms and manufacturing plants left the inner city. Lured in part by tax incentives and the prospect of hiring lower-wage, non-unionized labor, they moved their operations to suburbs, to other regions of the country, and later overseas — aided by international free-trade agreements crafted, in particular, in the 1980s and 1990s. As deindustrialization accelerated, workforce opportunities were limited more and more to an expanded service sector, and employment increasingly bifurcated into high-skill, high-income jobs and low-skill, low-income jobs. The loss of stable, relatively well-paid jobs for low-skilled workers in these deindustrializing cities had particularly deleterious effects on African Americans, who were disproportionately concentrated in the inner city, with few resources for going where jobs were moving, and were facing significant barriers of ongoing discrimination in the workforce.

These circumstances shaped the emergence and consolidation of what controversially came to be called an urban "underclass," isolated in pockets of concentrated disadvantage in neighborhoods characterized by racial segregation, high rates of poverty and unemployment, high proportions of female-headed households, out-of-wedlock births, and teenage pregnancy and high levels of social disorganization, violence, and crime. In many cities — Chicago among them — public housing communities exhibited these circumstances to an extreme. Residents of these neighborhoods thus had to contend not only with the challenges of their own poverty, but with what Wilson called "concentration effects" — the compounding negative impact of being poor and living among the poor, in unhealthy and often dangerous environments with weak physical and institutional infrastructures and disconnected from effective services, supports, and opportunity. Although debates continue about the relative effects of different determinants of concentrated, persistent poverty (e.g., deindustrialization versus racial segregation, structural versus cultural and behavioral factors) and about the most effective means to address it (e.g., "place-based" versus "people-based" strategies), there is general agreement about the influence of these factors, about the persistence of concentrated urban poverty, and about the need for social policies to address it.

Deconcentrating Poverty through Housing and Development Policy

Poverty policy in the United States is multifaceted and includes a range of programs and resource flows — cash assistance, subsidies to offset the cost of food and basic necessities (food stamps, WIC [Women, Infants, and Children]), housing subsidies, health insurance (Medicaid), child care assistance, job training and placement assistance, tax credits (Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit), social services — within the context of a residual, and shrinking, welfare state. However, policy oriented specifically toward urban poverty has largely targeted housing, urban restructuring, providing services, and economic development. Such responses to urban poverty have been varied, are historically situated, and have entailed a complex and changing interplay among actors in the public, private, and voluntary sectors.

Much of the current policy focus on urban poverty relies on housing and community development strategies to reduce the concentration of poverty in inner-city neighborhoods and improve the environments and access to opportunity of people currently living there. The lion's share of these efforts center on addressing the problems of public housing. Broadly, these policies take two forms. The first focuses on dispersal, in which public housing residents are relocated across the urban landscape into neighborhoods meant to have lower poverty rates and higher levels of racial, ethnic, and (especially) economic diversity than those they came from. Dispersal efforts have included the creation of "scattered-site" housing beginning in the 1970s, but most often they subsidize housing in the private rental market by issuing vouchers to cover "fair market rent" above about 30 percent of qualified tenants' income. Rather than concentrating subsidized housing in larger complexes or building smaller, scattered-site developments, each managed centrally by the housing authority, issuing vouchers was meant to help public housing residents access the private real estate market. Unlike project-based subsidies, however, moving to less poor, less racially segregated neighborhoods has been constrained by a lack of landlords willing to accept vouchers, by residents' choice, and by the difference between what these subsidies can cover and "fair market rent" in more affluent neighborhoods with stronger housing markets.

The second approach to poverty deconcentration focuses on place-based redevelopment. The national policy framework behind this strategy is HUD's HOPE VI (Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere) program, initiated in 1992 under the George H. W. Bush administration but drawing on earlier experiments (for example, in Boston and Chicago) in reshaping public housing with an emphasis on promoting mixed-income developments. Initially focused primarily on renovating the most severely distressed public housing, HOPE VI quickly began to shift priorities over the first few years, turning more to large-scale demolition and redevelopment as well as encouraging public housing authorities to extend vouchers to move families out of problematic public housing complexes without replacing each demolished unit with a newly constructed unit owned and managed by the housing authority. In addition, HOPE VI efforts were turning more toward privatization and public-private partnerships for developing and managing renovated or rebuilt public housing, as well as for a range of support services. With the 1996 appropriations bill, program goals became explicitly dedicated to deconcentrating poverty, stating that HOPE VI funds should be used to build or provide replacement housing "which will avoid or lessen concentration of very low-income families," a goal that became central to HOPE VI funding allocations going forward. In addition, undergirding the HOPE VI redevelopment philosophy were design principles espoused by the New Urbanist movement, which sought to promote more vibrant, well-integrated social environments through physical planning.


Excerpted from Integrating the Inner City by Robert J. Chaskin, Mark L. Joseph. Copyright © 2015 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents


Part One

1 Concentrated Poverty, Public Housing Reform, and the Promise of Integration
2 Theoretical Assumptions and Policy Orientations
3 Mixed-Income Development in Context: Urban Poverty, Community Development, and the Transformation of Public Housing

Part Two

4 Setting the Stage: The Neighborhood and Development Site Contexts
5 From Physical Transformation to Re-Creating Community: Development Strategies and Inputs
6 Does Social “Mix” Lead to Social Mixing? Emergent Community and the Nature of Social Interaction
7 Space, Place, and Social Control: Surveillance, Regulation, and Contested Community
8 Development, Neighborhood, and Civic Life: The Question of Broader Integration
9 The Promise and Perils of Mixed-Income Public Housing Transformation

Appendix: Methods and Data

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