Thousands are being deported without a chance to appear before an immigration judge.
Scattered-site Era Coming to an End
And nearly one in six units built toward that goal–"through the scattered-site housing program–"will be demolished or sold, CHA officials told The Chicago Reporter.
Forced upon a recalcitrant CHA by a federal judge in 1969, scattered-site housing became a national model for integrating public housing residents into the general population.
But in Chicago, high costs and political opposition often hindered efforts to acquire suitable land for scattered sites. And city and CHA policymakers believe they have found a better way: Instead of moving public housing residents into established neighborhoods, the agency will attempt to transform isolated high-rise developments into mixed-income communities and give displaced tenants federal Section 8 rental subsidies for private market apartments.
The scattered-site program attempted to integrate "very low-income families into an established neighborhood of moderate- to middle-income," CHA Chairperson Sharon Gist Gilliam said. The new policy, she said, requires "convincing moderate- to middle-income [residents] to establish themselves in what had been low-income [communities]. –¦ There is a difference in who has to be convinced."
That difference is political, said Douglas Massey, professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on housing segregation. Near North Side residents won't complain, he said, if the CHA replaces the infamous Cabrini-Green development with a mixed-income neighborhood with fewer public housing residents.
But attitudes were very different when the agency tried to move tenants to scattered sites in white communities, Massey said. "Political opposition was the key factor" working against that approach.
Later this year, developers will complete the final 21 of the almost 3,000 scattered-site units built as part of Gautreaux v. CHA, a 1966 class-action lawsuit named for late public housing resident Dorothy Gautreaux. A July 1969 judgment in the case ordered the CHA to scatter public housing in non-black neighborhoods.
The agency has no plans for more scattered-site units. Given Gautreaux's restrictions, "there is not the land available in Chicago, or the money available, to be building scattered sites," Gilliam said.
The CHA's $1.5 billion "Plan for Transformation," approved Feb. 5 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, allocates $77 million to rehabilitate scattered sites that escape demolition.
But Alexander Polikoff, longtime attorney for the Gautreaux plaintiffs, said he won't fight the demolition plans and can't make the agency replace the units. "If their judgment is right that they are in such bad shape they should be torn down, we're not going to disagree with them," he said.
The Plan for Transformation estimates that 236 of the 2,922 scattered-site units are in such "poor physical condition that they do not warrant continued investment."
But Gilliam said only 2,400 scattered-site units will survive, which means the CHA will demolish or sell 522 units. No residents in scattered sites as of last Oct. 1 will be forced out, though some may be moved to better units.
On May 16, the CHA Board of Commissioners awarded contracts for a $1.15 million physical assessment of scattered sites to four Chicago companies: Primera Engineering Ltd., Pacific Construction Services Inc., UBM Construction Inc. and Harza Engineering Ltd.
According to CHA Chief of Development John Roberson, the contractors will estimate repair costs for four units at each scattered-site building. A "clearly unsafe" unit will be demolished, he said. Units that exceed a still-to-be-determined "reasonable cost" for rehab may be sold to community- or faith-based organizations.
No preference will be given to units in predominantly white neighborhoods, Roberson said. The assessment will begin in July, and the contractors have 60 days to complete the job, he added.
But some units already have deteriorated to such a degree that the Chicago Department of Buildings has placed them on the city's "fast track" demolition list. Fast-track buildings are unoccupied, hazardous and unsecured and may be torn down after 40 days if owners do not respond to the department's violation notices.
A Gautreaux scattered-site unit requires a court order before it can be demolished. Yet Polikoff said he was not aware that scattered-site units were on the fast-track list.
The building department's May 22 report of nearly 9,000 properties cited by city inspectors included 60 scattered-site units, the Reporter found. Twenty-three were on the fast-track list and 11 were pending in housing court. Another 26 units were identified by the department's strategic task force, which targets buildings that have been identified as "drug/gang houses or places of ongoing criminal activity."
For its analysis, the Reporter used a 1995 CHA list of 971 scattered-site units and a list of 1,502 scattered-site units completed through March 1997 by The Habitat Co., the court-appointed receiver for the CHA. The agency refused to provide a current list of scattered-site addresses, citing concerns about residents' privacy.
The two-story, orange-brick building at 3019 S. Drake Ave. has been on the fast-track list since a May 11, 1999, inspection. Habitat renovated the unit and turned it over to the CHA on Dec. 6, 1996.
When the city inspector showed up, he found a vacant building with broken glass and worn floors. Plumbing fixtures were stripped; the electricity was turned off. A June 16 inspection found the front of the house covered with gang graffiti.
In a June 28, 1999 notice, the building department gave the CHA 30 days to repair the building or risk demolition. After a September inspection, the department contracted to demolish the building by Oct. 1. The CHA hand-delivered a letter Oct. 6 asking for a stay of demolition and promising to keep the property boarded up until it could be rehabbed. On June 8, it was unsecure and open.
Despite Gautreaux's protections, Roberson acknowledged the building department "may not have the slightest clue that Gautreaux exists. –¦ There will be better lines of communication so we don't make those kinds of errors [in the future]."
It took much longer to build scattered-site housing than it will to tear it down. In August 1966, Gautreaux and her fellow tenants sued the CHA for deliberately keeping black families out of white neighborhoods and HUD for contributing to the discrimination by funding the authority.
In July 1969, U.S. District Court Judge Richard B. Austin ordered the CHA to build public housing "as rapidly as possible" and to scatter it throughout the city. Specifically, the CHA had to build three units in "white areas"–"census tracts less than 30 percent black–"for every unit built in tracts more than 30 percent black. That ratio later became one for one.
But by 1974, the CHA still had built no units in compliance with Gautreaux. "For reasons entirely unclear to me," Austin wrote, "the effect and import of my orders have been avoided and frustrated for over five years." By 1987, the CHA had built or acquired 1,147 units, but nearly two-thirds were in mostly black neighborhoods, agency records show.
The court had seen enough. In August 1987, U.S. District Court Judge Marvin E. Aspen appointed Habitat as CHA receiver. By April 28 of this year, Habitat had completed 1,792 scattered sites under Gautreaux.
But the program never met the expectations of those who believed it would end the concentration of public housing residents in poor, black neighborhoods. Political pressure constantly dogged the program, as some white aldermen and their constituents fought to keep public housing out of their neighborhoods.
"You don't see any scattered-site units in Sauganash," said Carlos R. DeJesus, executive director of Latinos United, a housing advocacy group that filed a successful housing discrimination suit against the CHA and HUD in 1994. "You don't see any in highly segregated white areas, and that was the whole intent of scattered site."
In fact, Habitat built more than 53 percent of its scattered-site units in neighborhoods at least 60 percent Latino, according to a November 1999 Reporter analysis.
The Latino community was "the path of least resistance," DeJesus said. The initial support of Latino aldermen for some scattered-site units in their communities "opened the floodgates."
But despite his contention that Gautreaux was always a black-and-white case, Polikoff bristled at assertions that building in Latino neighborhoods was not consistent with the spirit of the suit.
"It would be pretty damned offensive to say we are not providing an opportunity for relief to move out of a 100 percent black neighborhood because it is a Latino [area]," Polikoff said. "Who says the only people blacks can live next to are whites?"
Of the 131 units Habitat built in predominantly white neighborhoods, more than 63 percent were built in the past three years, the Reporter found in November. That record is unfortunate, said Aurie A. Pennick, president and chief executive officer of the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities, which counseled residents seeking Section 8 housing under Gautreaux. "Only in the last decade was [scattered site] beginning–"and I say beginning–"to make strides," she said.
While a goal of the Plan for Transformation is to "provide greater housing choice" for CHA residents, it demolishes almost half the CHA's family housing stock and estimates 6,000 residents will receive Section 8 subsidies. But scattered-site housing does not appear to be an option for those displaced during redevelopment or those waiting for public housing.
While there is "constant turnover" in scattered-site units, Gilliam conceded the almost 30,000 families on the CHA's waiting list do not have much hope of getting any housing–"let alone a scattered site.
"Housing has never been an entitlement ... and currently there is no move to make it one," Gilliam said. "Clearly, we cannot address the waiting list."
That list includes thousands of Hispanics represented in the Latinos United lawsuit, which argued they were excluded from public housing, especially scattered-site units, despite a CHA provision giving them priority for units in their communities.
DeJesus was disheartened to hear that scattered-site units would be demolished. Tearing down any unit unless it is being replaced is "unacceptable," he said. "Latinos are just beginning to access the public housing programs we have been shut out of for years. The timing is horrific."
As the program winds down, Polikoff said his biggest disappointment is the few units it produced. Because the CHA didn't start complying with the court order until 1974, and then continually dragged its feet until Habitat took over in 1987, the program produced fewer units than it could have, he said. Before 1987, land was cheaper and more available, and there was more federal funding, Polikoff said.
William P. Wilen, housing attorney with the National Center on Poverty Law, gave the scattered-site program mixed reviews. "The statistics show it was far from achieving the original goals as designated–"provide housing in white areas. At that it was a failure," he said. But, "it probably provided more opportunities" for public housing families.
The CHA could build more scattered-site units, Polikoff said, but it would require funding from HUD for new public housing. All current funding is designated for replacement housing.
But Gilliam does not expect that to happen any time soon. "I don't see it in the mood of the Congress. I don't see any huge movement in the mood of the people who elect the Congress," she said. "Nobody is out there marching around saying –˜Build public housing.' That's just not where we are in our history at the moment."