Where do the tenants go when a housing project is demolished?
October 24, 2004 8:27 PM   Subscribe

Where do slum tenants relocate, once failed government housing like Cabrini-Green is demolished?
posted by four panels to Home & Garden (5 answers total)
Technically government housing projects aren't slums -- they're what replaced slums, in a starry-eyed era when we also thought we could eliminate poverty and myriad other forms of human suffering -- in this case, simply by building modern Corbusier-esque skyscrapers, we would elevate the poor away from the streets that held them down. But you're forgiven the impression.

The official Cabrini-Green Homes site indicates some of the modern era developments which are intended to correct the errors introduced in that bygone period. The current thinking is that functional neighborhoods must have a mix of incomes and a strong street presence, so much of the Cabrini property is being replaced by townhouses, a percentage of which are intended for CHA residents. (The remainder are profitably sold to people wishing to live comfortably near the still-genteel Old Town neighborhood.) Nevertheless, this will house only a fraction of the towers' former residents, who are now spread out through the Chicago area if they receive housing at all, which they likely do not; the remainder are either out of the program or using Section 8 rental assistance.

The context for this is Gautreaux v. CHA, a watershed lawsuit charging that public housing had achieved, by design or accident, significant deleterious racial segregation. The lawsuit decision was handed down in 1969, but it was almost 20 years before demolitions began, due to appeals and enormous legal wrangling over the form of the replacement. The developments themselves have faced kickback and other corruption investigations and are generally suspected to be social failures in their own right, but without the visibility of the housing towers.
posted by dhartung at 8:58 PM on October 24, 2004

Auxilliary question: I've seen a lot of these Section 8 townhouses popping around in my local ghetto, are these shown to work? My thinking is that generally lower income people that need housing assistance do not keep up their properties as those who can afford housing. This stems from either not being able to keep things nice because of simple poverty, apathy when one does not have to pay for something they do not care for it as much (it goes for all income brackets, the teen who wrecks all the cars his parents buy him), or various social conditions stemming from poverty (crack users don't like to mow, as do crazies). Perhaps cynical but in a capitalist society, or in any society really, there will be a certain population that will always be in poverty for a variety of reasons. So I guess my question really is given the above conditions, and failings of monolithic concrete projects, are these neighborhoods shown to work? I know it's probably too soon to tell but it seems to me gangs, violence, etc. never goes away it just moves. Am I wrong and cynical in this respect?

Sorry four panels, I don't mean to steal your show, but dhartung's response connected in my mind the demolition of the ugly projects and the rise fo the nice town homes and "Section 8 Welcome!" banners.

On preview: Covering my own ass, I'm not saying projects are good or we should forget poverty, I'm simply wondering if the government is throwing money at just another failure without researching whether they work or not.
posted by geoff. at 9:13 PM on October 24, 2004

under bridges of course
posted by jmgorman at 10:22 PM on October 24, 2004

I think you might be confused about just what Section 8 housing means. People that meet Section 8 criteria are given rental stipends that must meet fair-market rental prices. Thus, Section 8 tenants are just renters; they do not own homes. There have been programs of home-ownership designed for low-income people, but this isn't Section 8 per se.

Another huge misconception is that Section 8 is just for the down-and-out. In fact, most people, even poor people, are not elligible for Section 8. There are a number of criteria to get on the waiting list, and as the government squeezes funding to S8 and HOPE VI (more later), the number of people who actually get S8, even from the pool of elligible, is atrociously small.

I used to work at the Boston Housing Authority, my GF was an administrator in Section 8, and the situation is just appalling. When I started working there, the only people who could get on the waiting list were priority 1 candidates -- ALL of them were poor, but p1 meant they were also either disabled, victims of spousal abuse, potential victims of retribution crimes (for instance, ex-gang members who testified in court)... there were a couple of others that I forget now.

Currently, no new vouchers are being issued. That means even if you're a P1 candidate, you have to stay on the waiting list. If you're "just poor", you can forget about ever getting Section 8. The Republican vision of millions of lazy poor people abusing the system is pure fantasy.

Now, there is a truly innovative program called HOPE VI, which takes old, fucked up buildings (old tenaments and gov. housing) and creates a capitalistic incentive for rennovation. The government puts up a few million, and private investors put up the rest. The building is completely revamped, and a certain percentage of the units are sold at market value, while another percentage are guaranteed Section 8-only units. When I was working at the BHA, the big success story was with a bunch of ugly buildings in East Boston. The location was perfect (as was the view), it's just that the buildings were in terrible shape. Thanks to HOPE VI funding, that's going to be some of the nicest real estate in the city. A month after Boston got the funding, the federal government pulled ALL future HOPE VI funding.

Providing you don't just bunch poor people up and ghetto-ize an area, studies show that the urban poor take great pride in their homes. When I worked at the District Attorney's office in NYC, we were given a driving tour of "old-style" ghettos in the Bronx, and "new-style" housing developments in Queens. In Queens, large concrete multi-housing units were torn down, and small houses with driveways and lawns were put in their place. Every single one of them was absolutely immaculate. The people lucky enough to get into that program were actually proud to show off their homes. It was pretty inspiring... but nobody in the Federal government talks about stuff like that. No, it's all "the crack heads are stealing your tax dollars!"
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:56 PM on October 24, 2004

More info on the Maverick Housing development in East Boston.

Also, just to clarify, Section 8 means you can rent from anyone who lets apartments -- provided they aren't averse to renting to Section 8 clients. Most smart landlords aren't, because the "fair market value" of the rental amount usually gets them a pretty decent place, and landlords get their money from the government, which is less prone to bouncing checks than your average renter.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:41 AM on October 25, 2004

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