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Jan. 13 2010 - 1:12 pm | 291 views | 0 recommendations | 4 comments

Habitat gets the boot? Major change in the discrimination lawsuit against the Chicago Housing Authority

Dorothy Gautreaux, the plaintiff in Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority. Image from "Waiting for Gautreaux" by Alexander Polikoff

Dorothy Gautreaux, the plaintiff in Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority. Image from "Waiting for Gautreaux" by Alexander Polikoff

Holy crap. Ho-ly crap.

That was my reaction this morning when I heard the news that CHA may no longer have a court appointed receiver in the Gautreaux case.

If you’re not a housing nerd like me, that sentence means nothing to you. But this is like a major upheaval in Chicago’s public housing world – a huge shift in the way public housing is built in Chicago.

Here’s the backstory: In 1966, in the midst of the civil rights movement, a Chicago public housing resident named Dorothy Gautreaux and her gutsy lawyer, Alex Polikoff, sued the Chicago Housing Authority, saying that the government funded agency was breaking the law by continuing to segregate based on race. They said public housing was only being built in poor black neighborhoods, and that housing assignments were made based on race too.

It was a landmark case, and they won. CHA and HUD were found guilty of using discriminatory housing practices. From then on, the court would govern where CHA would build housing. The scattered site program was born – a new housing project that would scatter low-density public housing units in better neighborhoods. The Gautreaux decision also started the country’s first Section 8 program.

Except CHA dragged their feet on making these changes, and in 1987, the court appointed a “receiver” – the Habitat Company under Daniel Levin – to oversee all of CHA’s building to make sure they complied with the court orders.

Since then, Habitat and CHA have been like peanut butter and jelly – sticking together whether they like it or not. Habitat sits on every working group and is consulted in every decision to demolish, rebuild or rehab Chicago’s public housing.

But now, CHA is going to be set loose from the tether of Habitat, or so it seems. Crain’s said today that Judge Aspen, who presides over the Gautreaux case, thinks CHA no longer needs Habitat, and Habitat may be relieved of its receivership duties.

What does that mean?

Well, it means the judge thinks CHA can do this on it’s own, without any direct oversight, other than the litigation. It means CHA has undergone enough of an overhaul to comply with the anti-discrimination and segregation orders on their own. They’ll still be governed by the Gautreaux decision, but not scrutinized up close by Habitat.

And it means one major player in Chicago’s housing decisions won’t be in charge any more.

What do you think?

Do you think we’ve come far enough in society and in city government that we can trust our agencies to make equitable, fair decisions?

Can CHA and city officials be trusted not to discriminate on the basis of race?


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  1. collapse expand

    “Do you think we’ve come far enough in society and in city government that we can trust our agencies to make equitable, fair decisions?”

    Short answer, no…but at least this gives CHA less people to point fingers at instead of taking responsibility for their own actions.

  2. collapse expand

    This is interesting. It seems like Chicago is being loosed of major civil rights legislation in a number of areas. In September, a federal judge ended the desegregation consent degree which required that 65% of all seats at magnet and admission-only schools be reserved for minorities (among other requirements). I’m wondering what other (if any) watch dog groups will be making it their business to keep tabs on what is going on. How can we make society (the culture, the people) take an interest and keep tabs themselves?

  3. collapse expand

    Can CHA be trusted? No. Could Habitat? Even less.

    Habitat is one of the worst property managers in the city, notable for their involvement with Cecil Butler’s properties on the west side (remember the collapsed porches and 1,000+ housing code violations in the papers a few years back?) and for their terrible mis-management of Grove Parc, management that ultimately was kicked out by tenants in a bold campaign to both preserve and improve their complex.

    The bottom line is that neither CHA nor Habitat are committed to the human right to housing, but at least CHA is in the public sector and has some nominal accountability to the public. But it is ultimately up to us, the public, to hold their feet to the fire by ensuring they serve their mission – to provide decent housing to those who need it. In other words, there is a need for a “receiver” – but it shouldn’t be a major development corporation like Habitat, it should be the people affected by these policies – tenants and their communities.

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    I'm a journalist living in Chicago writing about poverty and public housing. I don't come from the streets - I grew up on a farm. But I'm passionate about urban issues and getting to know people who are completely different from me. I'm quirky, funny and friendly.

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