Academic journal article Cityscape

Public Housing Transformation and Resident Relocation: Comparing Destinations and Household Characteristics in Chicago

Academic journal article Cityscape

Public Housing Transformation and Resident Relocation: Comparing Destinations and Household Characteristics in Chicago

Article excerpt


Nearly a decade after the start of the Chicago Housing Authority's (CHA's) Plan for Transformation, more than 16,000 households have been relocated into a variety of housing contexts, including new mixed-income developments, private rental housing subsidized with vouchers, scattered-site public housing units, and rehabilitated 100-percent public housing developments. Using administrative data from the CHA and a number of state agencies, we compare the characteristics of residents who ended up in the different housing contexts and examine differences in their cunent well-being. Counter to expectations, our analysis reveals no evidence of any sorting of higher functioning households into new mixed-income developments or into the private market with housing choice vouchers, or of more challenged households being left behind in traditional public housing developments. On the contrary, we find that the households that ended up taking vouchers were relatively more challenged (as suggested, for example, by patterns of employment, income, and welfare receipt) in 1999 than other subgroups and even have relatively more troubling indicators of well-being in 2008. Furthermore, although the households living in scattered-site housing in 2008 seem to be faring quite well, those in mixed-income developments are surprisingly indistinguishable across most indicators from the households living in traditional public housing developments.


During the past two decades, scholarly interest in and policy responses to urban poverty have largely focused on concentration effects in very high-poverty neighborhoods. In these neighborhoods, the social problems linked to poverty have a cumulative negative effect on residents above and beyond their direct effects on individuals or households (Jargowsky, 1997; Massey and Denton, 1993; Wilson, 1996, 1987). Public housing, which has been relegated generally to very low-income, African-American neighborhoods, has increased substantially the concentration of poverty and the racial segregation in many urban areas (Massey and Kanaiaupuni, 1993).

Given these concentration effects, housing policies aimed at deconcentrating poverty in urban centers have taken one of two approaches. The first approach, dispersal policies, encourage public housing residents to move out of large public housing projects and, ideally, into higher income and less segregated neighborhoods. Residents may receive vouchers to use in the private market or move to public housing units scattered throughout the city (Goetz, 2003, 2000; Varady and Walker, 2003). In addition, federal housing policy has included efforts to allow for greater mobility of public housing residents; for example, by shifting from project-based to tenant-based subsidies, and by enabling residents to use vouchers across municipal boundaries (Goetz, 2000). By contrast, the second approach, place-based redevelopment policies, focus on demolishing large public housing projects and replacing them with mixed-income developments on the same site. The federal HOPE VI Program is an example of this approach (Cisneros and Engdahl, 2009; Popkin et al, 2004; Smith, 2006).

Policymakers intend both strategies to counteract the effects of concentrated poverty by providing public housing residents with access to more resources and opportunities, including better schools, more responsive services, better access to the workforce, and opportunities to forge new social relationships with more affluent neighbors (Arthurson, 2002; Joseph, Chaskin, and Webber, 2007; Kearns and Mason, 2007; Kleit, 2001). Redevelopment policies have the additional goal of improving conditions in the surrounding neighborhood (Goetz, 2010, 2003; Popkin et al, 2004).

The Chicago Housing Authority's (CHA's) Plan for Transformation (the Transformation), which has affected almost 25,000 public housing households directly, represents the most ambitious effort in the United States to address the problems of concentrated urban poverty through both dispersal and redevelopment strategies. …

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