Former public housing residents still segregated, says UIC study
January 7, 2011

By Anne Brooks Ranallo

Most former residents of Chicago’s demolished public housing still live in segregated, low-income neighborhoods despite using housing vouchers to subsidize their rents, according to a study by University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) researchers.

Federal vouchers help about 35,000 Chicago households, according to the UIC report, Are We Home Yet? Creating Real Choice for Housing Choice Voucher Families in Chicago.

The voucher program was designed to enable low-income families to live in better housing in neighborhoods that can offer better education, job opportunities, and amenities than public housing had, said Janet Smith, director of UIC’s Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement.

Smith produced the report with Housing Action Illinois, the Latino Policy Forum, and the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.

The voucher program has had some positive effects, Smith said.

“About 15,000 landlords have secure tenants because of the vouchers, and many of them are small property owners,” she said. “That shouldn’t be overlooked in a down housing market.”

Another goal was to promote racial, ethnic, and economic integration.

“Slowly, segregation patterns are changing in the U.S., in part because of the voucher program, but they haven’t changed in Chicago,” Smith said. “The data indicate that, in the past ten years, most voucher holders have moved to more predominantly African-American communities with poverty rates well above the city average.”

Foreclosures, crime, and poor health among residents also exceed the average in those areas: Auburn Gresham, Chatham, Englewood, Grand Boulevard, Greater Grand Crossing, Washington Park, West Englewood, and Woodlawn on the city’s South Side and Austin, East and West Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, and North Lawndale on the West Side, according to the report.

Smith said growing research on healthy neighborhoods backs up the report’s recommendations to address decades of disinvestment. For example, public housing authorities and public officials throughout the Chicago region must cooperate to ensure fair housing. Also:

The Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) should partner with an established housing counseling agency to educate all voucher holders, not only those relocating from public housing, about chances to move to more advantageous communities.

The CHA should use its Moving to Work agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to promote moves to better neighborhoods, called “opportunity areas,” much more aggressively.

Congress should enact the Federal Section 8 Voucher Reform Act.

Public housing authorities in the region should conduct an information campaign to dispel myths and educate people, particularly landlords, about the voucher program.

The Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) should develop more targeted fair-market rents for the Chicago region, rather than using wide geographic areas to set rents.

The CHA should use the maximum allowable rent in opportunity areas, give landlords in opportunity areas incentives to take vouchers, and give voucher holders incentives to learn about new communities and post-move assistance toward successful transition.

Elected officials should enact source-of-income protections that include vouchers. Chicago prohibits discrimination against tenants because of their sources of income, but voucher holders should be protected in all cities.

HUD should provide incentives for public housing agencies to allow voucher holders to move outside the CHA’s jurisdiction, and the CHA and HUD should increase project-based vouchers in targeted neighborhoods, particularly for larger households.

The CHA and City of Chicago should increase outreach and services to voucher holders who live in buildings that are in foreclosure.

The CHA and other agencies must work to build healthy communities where voucher holders currently live.

The full report is posted at For more information, call (312) 355-2523.