A Savory Survey

by  Assistant Editor

Susan Popkin and Mary K. Cunningham from the Urban Institute released a study this summer on 190 residents of public housing who were supposed to be relocated. The study’s results should be important for understanding the CHA Transformation Plan.

Public housing in Chicago, like in many other cities, is currently undergoing a lot of redevelopment.

In 1998, nearly 19,000 CHA units failed inspection and were set up for demolition. As a result, the city put forth their “Plan for Transformation.”

The Plan for Transformation calls for demolition of 51 gallery high-rises as well as several thousand mid-rise and low-rise units. As CHA demolishes its units and builds new, mixed-income neighborhoods, there will be a net loss of 14,000 units.

The Urban Institute study was conducted in February 2000 until July 2001. This study was conducted so that it may advise and inform the “actors” in the Plan, including residents, CHA officials, social service providers and anyone else concerned about the relocation programs.

The study used the most challenging relocatees as respondents, such as the ones that had a lack of education and skills, were very poor and had many challenges to overcome.

All of the respondents were African American. Most are females, 42 percent are under 35 years old, and 14 percent are over 60. Over half, 59 percent, reported having more than 3 children in their household. Most are long-term residents and have lived in the development for more than 10 years. About 84 percent reported a household income below $10,000 and about two-thirds - 63 percent – do not have a high school diploma.

The study that was conducted had a three-wave panel survey. Each of the residents had to be leaseholders who selected Section 8 as their first option. They were given in-depth interviews focusing on their experience with counseling programs with a 6-month follow up.

At the end of the six-month follow up, very few of the residents in their sample had moved from public housing. The survey team were able to contact 156 – 80 percent – of the original respondents and just 36 – 23 percent – had moved out of public housing.

The authors of the study wrote that their survey was limited because they were “studying a moving target.” Nearly all of the residents who moved went to high poverty, segregated neighborhoods. The moves didn’t seem to improve the lives of the residents. In their new places, there were reports of big problems such as peeling paint, mice, rats, roaches, broken locks, and gang activity – just like in the developments.

The study tried to find out why it was so hard for the residents in the study to move. It showed that residents faced personal and institutional problems such as social issues and social illnesses such as substance abuse, domestic violence, depression, fear of leaving public housing, and gang affiliation.

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