Friday, January 23, 2009

Sloopin's Public Housing Situation

A recent article in the Chicago Journal detailed new plans by the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) to close more buildings at the Harold Ickes Homes (which is located at the far southwest corner of the near south neighborhood).

The topic of Public Housing and gentrification always proves to be a touchy subject and this is no different. From their controversial conception in the 1930’s to the current dilemmas they face now, Public Housing tends to be viewed negatively, but as a necessity for poorer, underprivileged citizens.

Without getting into to much detail and nuance, the “older” public housing complexes (like the Ickes Homes) tended to only be comprised of poorer citizens that couldn’t afford housing. As you can imagine and have probably read, these complexes bred illicit and underground markets (such as drugs and prostitution) where gangs fought for control and power. Many documentaries, books and movies have chronicled this history (most famously in the Cabrini-Green complex on the near north side).

More recently, the federal department of housing and urban development (HUD) in conjunction with other local government agencies has started a ‘new’ initiative that tries to encourage mixed housing with people of different socioeconomic backgrounds (public housing, affordable housing and market rate housing). The idea is to have a diverse neighborhood with a variety of different types of people.

Public housing continues to be a tough situation, but the newer approach seems to make more sense then grouping large numbers of underprivileged and sometimes desperate residents together (however, who buys the market rate housing? Would you?).

In the near south side neighborhood resides two complexes, the Ickes Homes and the Hilliard Homes (as seen on the map). The Hilliard Homes is comprised of two unique buildings that are considered architectural gems and are on the national register of historic buildings. In 2002, the city started a project to convert the complex into the new mixed housing model (and includes public housing, affordable housing and senior living). Across the street, The Harold Ickes Homes are currently listed as 'TBD' in regards to their future plans.

Given the proximity to McCormick Place, other proposed Olympic venues and the cities general plans for the near south side neighborhood, it will be interesting to see what happens with the Ickes Homes. If the Hilliard Homes (which sit across the street) prove to be a success, maybe the government will implement a similar strategy here. If not, who knows?

One thing seems inevitable though, the Harold Ickes Homes probably won’t be around much longer in their current form and for many residents of the South Loop and Near South Side neighborhoods that’s probably welcomed news.

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