A colossal exercise in moral deception

March 5, 2001

Once again, in the self-righteous polemic of social engineering, architects team with city officials and developers to propose their stratagems of moral deception for yet another subversion of interests. Magazine articles will tout the ‘new’ ideas of dispersal and diversity and drop names of the people who ‘came up’ with them. Awards will be given and developments touted as model communities of the future. As were the very high-rises these developments are to replace when they were built. (plan to voucher 51) Once again, a program has been carved which panders to architects, developers, contractors, and pretty much everyone other than the people it is supposed to help. Once again, the only people invited to review the program are those who will benefit from the interests it will create. Once again, the program has already been written in the wake of a crisis which was caused by the very people who are once again writing the program. Once again a ‘colossal exercise in moral deception’ is being undertaken (Grossman summarizing Hirsch’s explanation of Chicago’s postwar housing projects). Once again, we ask, ‘which pretty pictures and plans will subvert attention away from the fact that this is little more than another round of land-grabbing and the displacement of those who now occupy it.

“The charges so often leveled at the federal effort – that it neglected the poor; that it was actually anti-poor because of its demolition of low-rent housing and inadequate relocation procedures; that it simply subsidized those who needed aid least; and that it was transformed into a program of “Negro clearance” – were hardly evidence of a plan gone awry. These were not ‘perversions’ of the enabling legislation, they were the direct consequences of it. Indeed, the indictment made of the national program in the mid-1960’s was virtually unchanged from that heard a decade or more earlier on the near South Side and in Hyde Park. Thus, as Scott Greer notes, nearly 70% of the dwelling units condemned for urban renewal projects were occupied by blacks. This was primarily due, Greer felt, to their ‘central locations and deteriorated conditions, but the effects [were] the same as they would be if dehousing Negroes were the goal.’ Yet, in some instances at least, that was precisely the goal. Indeed, in a recent study, Michael J. White found that for two of the four cities he examined in detail (Chicago and Cleveland) race was still a factor in selecting renewal areas even after controlling all other variables. This does not mean, of course, that the laws had to be used in this fashion; but it should be no surprise that they were. If the University of Chicago could use state and federal assistance for such purposes under legislation and plans of its own devising, it was perhaps inevitable that those same tools could be similarly employed elsewhere.(Making the second ghetto 273-4)

Do we really need to continue the charade? Does anyone believe it anyway? Does not everyone already know what the true program is? Is there really anyone who is going to buy their $500,000.00 townhouse and simultaneously feel that they are actually fulfilling some sort of moral and social obligation of diversity?

Is not the charade what adds insult to injury? Everyone winks and plays their role as martyrs even though they are tearing down the projects and putting up half-million dollar townhomes right before our eyes. Are we so duped by the self-righteous political rhetoric of privatization and ‘mixed-income’ that we can not see what is directly in front of us; that we do not realize that once again the poor are being reshuffled in a gratuitous government funded land grab, ironically, of what is currently government land? Not only is the land being given away, but funding has been specifically designed to pay (‘encourage’) developer and contractor buddies to take it from us. And all this occurs in broad daylight, under our noses, in this, the ‘age of information’, the beginning of the twenty-first century. I can only imagine that as these developments open, Mayor Richard M. Daley will again say with a wry smile on his face, like his father said at the 1962 opening of the Robert Taylor Home, that the development ‘represents what all of us feel America should be.’ (Raising hopes by razing high-rises) That is: power, privilege, profit – and all under the guise of self-righteousness and helping the poor.

Most importantly is the programmatic requirement that the design and implementation make the structure of exploitation of the poor invisible, despite the fact that it is obvious.

“I think they wanna give it to the, well, the more fortunate peoples; they say the middle class and some low-income. I think they wanna give it to all these people that already got a good life, but complaining about they live too far. And they tired of cathing the Metra (commuter train), so they just want one transportation, they want a place where they don’t have to drive their own car to park, ’cause they spend too much money parking, they wanna be able to save all that money parking and just catch one ride to their job and that’s what they gonna get.” (Horner resident quoted in Hidden War 120)

Is this self-righteous product moralizing not just the same old political line, re-implemented in this the ‘new economy?’ Products purport to have social implications in order to hide their social implications. BP Amoco purports to be good for the environment. Nike purports to be good for battling sweatshops. New housing developments purporting to help the poor as it steals the land out from under them and scatters them into the wind. AIDS-Walks purport to be for a cause, while actually selling an experience and giving very little return to their ’cause’. The AIDS-Walk and new ‘mixed-income’ housing developments make massive use of the ’cause’ as a selling and marketing tool which provides a self-righteous justification for a gratuitous and self-indulgent product of the experience economy.

Politics has always been ahead of advertising in this arena. After all, that is how the second ghetto, the one consisting of the public housing high-rises, was made and legitimized. In the post-World War II era, this is how developers stole their land, made their money, how neighborhoods, universities and city council members kept their neighborhoods white. In the same way it is being done again. Surely as much money, as much corruption, as much insult can be made by the dismantling of the high-rises as was made by their construction. After all, finally, in the end, the original programmatic desires to contain the black population, steal their land and profit from exploitative development might now be fully realized on the land which was originally taken from them. In fact, the land-grab areas can even be expanded.


1. Make the poor invisible.

“Do you think that middle-class America cares where poor people live? As long as it is not next to them. Now, that is the crux of the problem. But nobody seems to care.” (Cheryl Lovell, executive director of the St. Louis Housing Authority, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

This was the main point of previous public housing programs – tear down the slums and put up brick boxes that conceal (and contain) poverty. But this time there is a different approach – this time poverty will not be made invisible by sectioning it off into brick boxes and un-traversable areas of the city. Instead a strategy of invisibility through dispersal is employed. No longer will poverty be swept under the rug, this time poverty will be ‘dispersed’ like dust.

Thus, most of the poor will be banished to other low-income neighborhoods away from visibility and high-land value. The extremely few poor that will remain within the developments in order to legitimize the land takeover will be hidden behind slick unalterable facades. Perhaps another proposal of forced housekeeping training could be implemented, or neighborhood covenants and associations which can give them (the poor) the boot for any attempt to show themselves.

2. Steal their land.

“A resident asks the important question: ‘Which is the greater danger? Being mugged by a streetwise thug or by the system?'”(Reclaiming the inner city 66)

Basically, the first blow takes 2/3 of the land by assigning only 1/3 ‘back’ to low income housing while not replacing the lost land anywhere else in the city. It takes even more than 2/3 when you consider that the requirements for ‘low income’ are not so low and the average public housing resident will not be able to afford even the 1/3 of the housing. Amazing that the public, as owners of the land, are literally paying people to steal the land out from under us.

Is this an Urban Manifest Destiny? The basic premise has been used quite often. Set up small dispersed ‘reservations’ (despite the fact the land was theirs to begin with) under the guise of goodness or God. (Preferably land which is of little or no value.) Make false and empty assurances of a ‘better’ and ‘more equal’ (read: unequal) public infrastructure (Indian Normalization Schools then, public schools now). Take the land.

3. Exit public welfare and institutions.

Once the poor are dispersed and ‘invisible’ it won’t be too hard to quietly take the final blow and exit public housing and all public institutions altogether. They are currently tearing down the high-rises in broad day-light, replacing them with what amounts to nothing, and no one seems to care. The infrastructure for the exiting of public housing is already being set up in the contracts with the developers, the banks, the contractors (everyone involved gets a piece of the pie)… all get major tax cuts on the front end and/or for whatever limited number of years after building. After these limited years of tax breaks, they are no longer required to provide low-income housing. Recent changes in federal law have eased restrictions on landlords.

Under this and other ownership schemes, the low-income housing units are aided only temporarily. After which condo fees, mortgage fees, and house upkeep costs will most likely force out the low-income units. And if these measures do not force them out, you can be assured that they will be raised, or new measures invented, until they do.


The inter-connectivity of the programmatic stratagem

The programmatic stratagem thus reinforce each aspect of the program with the other. Vouchers serve the triple purpose of hiding the governmental structure by eliminating the visibility of public housing, they free up the land for redevelopment, and they set the stage for increased reductions in government housing spending through their invisibility. Demolition obviously automatically makes the poor invisible, steals their land, and exits public welfare. By moving the poor and the governmental support structure into less visibility, the land is grabbed and the stage is set for exiting public welfare. These aspects are inter-related and can not be fully separated. The exiting of public welfare legitimizes the land-grab and provides an invisible structure of exploitation through the exiting strategy of development. The land-grab is legitimized by the failure of public housing and its high visibility. The land-grab legitimizes invisibility and exiting public welfare through the ‘mixed-income’ schema, in which it would be bad to have too many poor people in one land area. Where the people go is largely ignored.

What should be examined when looking at specific urban designs and architectural plans, is the specific mechanisms by which these stratagem can be accomplished. Of most interest are the specific physical devices to make invisible the structure which causes, ensures, and exploits the poor.

This is finally and always the point of architecture: to hide the exploitation it facilitates.

“There is no denying the burden of the past, but Chicago’s neighborhoods and leadership sustained the actions of past generations with a passion that went beyond the grudging consent given to ‘inevitable’ developments. Entering a period of massive growth in the post-World War II era, the ghetto, in effect, was re-created and reshaped by new pressures, not old ones. Chicago’s second ghetto is a dynamic institution, not a dead inheritance from the past.(Second ghetto 254)

Statagem: Resident (Non)Participation

Very few of the original residents will remain, so why include them? (The plan for Cabrini approved by the Local Advisory Council was discarded, and a new plan was drawn up which excluded residents from the process and proposed more demolition, less replacement units, and more higher income units. The residents were thus excluded from the process and the plan. They had to bring a lawsuit against the CHA. (Plan to voucher iii))

It is important to note that Mayor Daley has proclaimed that residents will be heard throughout the entire process precisely after announcing the $1.5 billion program.

The important aspect of resident participation is to make them feel included without giving them any actual power.

Stratagem: ‘Services’

The Bulls owner donated $1 million for mandatory housekeeping training. Not surprisingly, the Horner Resident Committee considered the training demeaning. For at the base of this mandatory housekeeping training lies the belief that old CHA turned new townhome residents were ‘bringing their problems with them’ (emphasis added, Hidden war 132)

‘Services’ such as learning to clean house, care for your children, manage finances, etc. simultaneously allow the appearance of ‘help’ while accomplishing the real objective of such services: placing the blame back on the public housing residents themselves. The underlying argument of such services is that shortcomings of the residents themselves is the cause of the failure of public housing. Thus ‘services’ employs the full double-edged sword of charity and moral deception apparent in all the stratagem: it places the agencies of service in a morally righteous and superior position without blame, and it places the residents in the morally ‘aided’ inferior position with the blame. It legitimates continued oppression and exploitation through the argument that public housing residents are in the current position because of their own inadequacies and therefore must be further oppressed and exploited, i.e. ‘aided’ through such ‘services’. But these ‘services’ serve only their real task: legitimizing power. Through ‘inclusion’ in the economic system by means of such ‘services’, the power structure remains. This is much the same as the public education system works to setup a stacked economy of knowledge=wealth, wealth=knowledge through the guise of equal education. It is never intended that equal education ever actually exists, only that everyone be forced into the economy it facilitates. Just as it is never intended that ‘services’ actually fix anything within the system of oppression it legitimizes. ‘Services’ are only a means of placing blame and legitimizing power, not a real agent of social aid or change.

Stratagem: ‘Deconcentration’ and the ‘Culture of Poverty’

Of all the failures of the redevelopment plan, the largest and saddest is not only the disregard for the communities and support structures which have grown within public housing among residents, but the intentional destruction of these community structures. Rather than face the fact that public housing is a product of systemic abuses within all aspects of society and that all are to some degree responsible and connected, public housing residents have been categorized (demonized) as the evil other. The residents are blamed for the very problems of which they are victims. From schools to housing to welfare to childcare, public housing residents have been blamed for the failure of the systems (systems which have been intentionally underfunded and exploited) and for a failure to escape from the systems (systems built specifically to contain, exploit and oppress). Thus a common fiction is established that a ‘culture of poverty’ exists which perpetuates itself and which must be dismantled. As if this ‘culture of poverty’ is not the very product of a system designed to contain poverty to this culture. The real culture within public housing projects, the culture which is close-knit and which provides an incredible support structure in the face of poverty, has been completely disregarded and even actively attacked. The culture which existed within poverty has fallen victim to the perpetuated myth of the the culture of poverty.

Stratagem: Vouchers – A Trojan Horse

The “voucher plan is ‘a trojan horse’- an attractive package masking dangerous long-term consequences. For federal policy is not simply about the best way to procure shelter for the poor at inexpensive prices. It is intimately connected with federal social policy.” (Trojan horse))

Vouchers set the stage for easy and invisible reduction and exiting of public housing welfare.

Stratagem: Dispersal – Resegregation

Vouchers afford the opportunity for displacement of the poor into less desirable neighborhoods without the perception of direct government involvement in forcing or ‘steering’ residents into particular areas. Subsequent groupings of the public housing residents can thus be blamed on ‘natural’ housing market factors.

“Those families presently using the Section 8 certificates and vouchers are clustered in communities with Black populations over 90% and where there are also large concentrations of poverty. If families were to move outside of areas of concentrated poverty, the housing gap increases to three people for every unit.” In addition, the loss of housing units, mass discrimination against CHA residents, poor relocation process and changes in federal law giving greater latitude to landlords which can result in lease terminations, caps on section tenants in particular buildings, unaffordable security deposit requirements, and tenant difficulties meeting utility costs. (Plan to voucher ii)

“[A 1995 Report to Congress] stated that ‘ racial segregation and economic isolation is not simply the result of recipients preferring to live with others of similar race and income: a combination of social, market, and policy factors constrains the choices open to them [Sectionholders].” (Plan to voucher 16)

“As the bitter displacement experience of racial minority groups have led them to fear, too many city officials are disposed to employ slum clearance and urban redevelopment projects to preserve and extend, rather than to loosen up, the city’s racial pattern in housing.” (Robert Weaver quoted in Second ghetto 254)

Despite the fact that city council members repeatedly vetoed sites selected, Judge Austin found the CHA guilty of racial segregation and ‘steering’ Blacks to developments in Black neighborhoods. “Consequently, public housing was deeply embedded and implicated in the city’s segregated residential patterns. The CHA’s site selection practices reflected the private market patterns, while reinforcing and perpetuating them as well.” (Crossing 24)

Stratagem: Gautreaux program – A mass exodus to the suburbs and beyond

“‘Voucherizing’ all of HUD provides a vehicle for vastly expanding the vision of moving the subsidized poor to the suburbs.” (Trojan)

The reports on the Gautreaux program have been completely misused and misconstrued to legitimize the mass exodus forced by the city of Chicago. The differences between current resident re-location and the re-location which occurred within the Gautreaux program are immense.

Mayor Nickolas Graves of the suburb Harvey says the CHA and the Housing Authority of Cook County have issued an estimated 6,000 vouchers to the 34 southern suburbs, of which 1500 are in Harvey. According to Harvey, only 6 percent of CHA voucher families moved outside Chicago, but 85% of these moved to south suburban communities. Harvey issues over 1000 building code violation citations per month and landlords typically choose to abandon the structure rather than make repairs, becoming ‘a source of squatters and crime.’ (Chicago Tribune, Harvey moratorium)

“It would be a terrible irony if former CHA residents end up concentrated in overcrowded private-market slums, much like the housing that CHA’s high-rise developments replaced.” (Hidden war 189) 

“We believe that these policies are both unwise and unfair. The policies are unwise because they will further deepen the affordable housing crisis in Chicago. They are unfair because the redevelopment plans for public housing will benefit private developers at the expense of very low income families.” (Plan to voucher ii)

Statagem: Dispersed and unequal

“It is not at all certain that the new mixed-income and dispersal strategies can either reverse these effects or prove any more beneficial to current CHA residents than all the anticrime efforts that preceded them throughout the 1990’s…. Although social structure and organization seem crucial, it does not necessarily follow logically that constructing a better designed mixed-income development will lead to the creation of the kind of community where different kinds of people interact and provide each other with help and support.” (Hidden war 184)

Will a true dispersal be employed? Even if such a dispersal was accomplished in the area of housing, would this solve anything? Does anyone really think that just because someone got some sort of a ‘deal’ for living next to ‘those’ people, that then some sort of equality or equal opportunity will exist? Do we really think that somehow money will rub off? Isn’t this the same flawed logic that caused white flight originally, that poverty rubs off, inverted?

Are the children who are being shuffled around into ‘hidden’ low-cost units going to be going to the same school as their neighbors? Are they going to have the same access to information as their neighbors? Are they going to be able to pay the same condo-fees as their neighbors? Are they going to feel welcomed by their neighbors? Are they going to get drug rehabilitation instead of prison? Are they going to get equal representation? Are they going to get protected instead of harassed by the police? Are they going to get the same lawyer representation? Are they going to get the same doctors, the same medicines, the same care as their neighbors? Are they going to have the same job offers? Are they going to have the opportunity, no matter what job they have, to make a living from it?

Are we talking about true diversity here, or are we talking about hiding the poor, hiding the negative side of a system, within and amongst the positive receivers? Make no mistake. Dispersion is in no way the destruction of the separation dividing the positive and negative receivers of American capitalist democracy. Dispersion remains a separation. No longer separate but equal (which as we all know was separate and unequal) – but invisibly separate, dispersed and unequal. Dispersed and unequal simply means a more sophisticated, subtle, complex and less visible means of preserving privilege through very real channels and structures.

“Regardless of whether any version of these plans succeeds in creating much better housing or, with the city’s involvement, revitalizing neighborhoods, the conclusion is inescapable: a much smaller supply of public housing will be available for the neediest tenants. With a limited supply of housing, it may not be possible for the CHA to effectively serve both higher-income tenants and its current, extremely needy population. Without careful management, these residents may indeed become the ‘tenants that nobody wants’. (Hidden war 187)

Why has public welfare died? Insurance companies have trillions of dollars in profit. From providing what government could have, should have done, but by providing it in a way which the government could not justify. (And by welfare I mean all public institutions, spaces, causes). Because what insurance provides ‘legitimately’, and what the government cannot provide ‘legitimately’ (although it does so anyway) is an unequal distribution. That is, insurance companies preserve the status quo and the idea that you get what you deserve. Insurance companies preserve the basis of capitalist structure (so some believe): the ‘ladder.’ Insurance companies can insure that you get a better doctor because you have more money and you paid more and you are in general a better person and deserve a better doctor. After all, riches is directly equivalent to smarts and hard work – thats the whole beautiful economy that public education was set up to legitimize in the first place right?

On another front, the destruction of public institutions is accomplished through privatization. Vouchers: for housing, for school, for medical care, for whatever. Legitimize the end of public institutions under the guise of free choice. While what really occurs is the transfer of all public structures to privatized for-profit companies which operate everything from schools to prisons. This privatization allows the continuation of a separated unequal dispersal. (Look at the numerous lawsuits and work-arounds after Vermont passed Act 60, the Vermont Equal Educational Opportunity Act in which all the money is put into one state pot and re-distributed equally among schools.)

Stratagem: ‘Mixed-Income’

“The concept and policy of mixed income community needs to be better defined.

‘Mixed income’ has become a fashionable notion which is hollow and abstract until it takes a concrete form in the politics of development. From the perspective of low income people, mixed income is good if it means they can stay in their community. But to private developers, the mix of income is only okay as long as the number of low income people does not exceed some perceived ‘tipping point.’ Bringing middle and upper income people into a community that is predominantly poor can and has meant that the mixed income composition disappears as the poor are driven out by higher taxes and higher rents. In this case, the ‘tipping point’ works the other way. How many upper class people will it take to drive up land values and drive the poor out? The real point is that the notion of mixed income provides a convenient political screen for other agendas. As one historian [Arnold Hirsch] accounts, the creation of concentrated public housing developments in the past was used to free inner city land Black families occupied for private development. The Cabrini Green [and other] public housing is on land deemed too valuable for poor people’s housing. As the government offers subsidies, like the tax increment financing district in the Near North, for upscale development, public housing is left to deteriorate and few of the new replacement units will be affordable to the present residents of Cabrini Green. Ultimately, the important question is, where are the poor people to live? There is little or nothing in the proposed plans for the Near North to guarantee the continued presence of low income housing. It can be argued that the banner of mixed income is the anti-poor people, urban renewal program of the 1990’s.”(Plan to voucher 51-2)

“Further, because of their very low incomes and personal problems, many CHA residents may not qualify for housing in mixed-income developments or for Section 8 assistance. Our assessment of the early phases of the revitalization of Henry Horner Homes suggests that the ultimate outcome of that effort may be a much-improved development with few original tenants living there.” (Hidden war 185)

Indeed a ‘much-improved development’ because few original tenants live there.

The checkboxes from the CHA PHA 5 Year Plan, page 4:


Implement measures to deconcentrate poverty by bringing higher income public housing households into lower income developments.


Implement measures to promote income mixing in public housing by assuring access for lower income families into higher income developments.’

Stratagem: ‘Low-Income’ Hat Trick

Governments and developers have taken full advantage of the dubious terms such as ‘low-income’ and ‘affordable housing.’ While the average CHA resident has a measly annual income of around 10% of the median ($6540). [Within the new low-income housing areas that remain in the plan, the target is set at 50% of residents to b 0-30% AMI, and 50% to be 30-80% of Area Median Income.] Not to say that those in these income brackets cannot benefit from government assistance. But the fact is that redevelopment projects are replacing one category of income with another, while continuing to use the same term and providing no real alternative housing for the extremely poor who are being displaced. This is an intentionally misleading substitution of the very poor for the moderately poor. A ‘trading up’ of the constituency of public housing.

Stratagem: ‘affordable’ housing

Within the ‘mixed-income’ community, the various levels include “Market Rate” housing, i.e. luxury townhomes which have made up 50% of the housing stock in some recently implemented developements. “Affordable” housing (80-120% Median Income), “Working Family” Public Housing (50-80% Median Income) and Very Low Income Public Housing (0-50% Median Income). Less than 1% of CHA residents in Chicago make over $26,000.00. Thus the public housing money and TIF money are being used to displace CHA residents under the auspices of ‘affordable housing’ which do not serve the CHA residents. In some developments, the very-low income category has been a measly 15% of the new housing stock. (Plan to voucher 36)

Stratagem: ‘Model’ families

“Now the new law will create 50,000 housing vouchers aimed at assisting welfare families’ transition to work. That’s still a small commitment, given the 12.5 million whose housing the U.S. government views as unacceptable. The smallness does clarify, however, that the real question is not how to make federal housing policy work for everyone; rather, its how to make life tolerable for the lottery winners who manage to get federally subsidized housing in the first place.” (Paradox)

At one point, when the CHA was attempting to integrate black families and public housing into white neighborhoods. (An attempt which caused the Illinois legislature to hand veto power of site selection to the Chicago city council.) Certain ‘model’ black families were selected for the projects. This was meant to cause the least disturbance and make the most visible public housing the most visibly pleasing (most visible to the white community). (Crossing 21)

This is the reverse situation, small numbers of ‘model’ black families are being selected to remain on the land as a political representation as the land is turned over to whites. That is, the small number of public housing residents that will remain on the land are supposed cover-up the intrusion and take-over of the land. The land is taken, while small dispersed areas are spread throughout as a political representation. An attempt is made to make as many inhabitants as possible move on, while those that remain are dispersed into smaller more manageable easily surveilled reservations. Through the reversal of the majority population, the original inhabitants of the land are re-cast as minority intruders which will only be ‘tolerated,’ and which ‘must’ be carefully screened and highly surveilled.

The term used in current CHA documents instead of ‘model families’ is ‘upward mobility families.’ From page 21 of the CHA PHA FY 2000 Annual Plan, ‘Upward Mobility Families’ are ranked for placement within public housing above ‘Applicants whose children are verified to be at risk of placement outside of the home because of inadequate food, clothing, shelter or environmental neglect or whose children cannot be returned home because the family cannot provide for the children’s subsistence needs.’

Stratagem: ‘A physically indistinguishable facade’

“Its too quiet for me. Thats how people get killed. Its so quiet, nobody even knows.(Tammy Brown qtd in Falls)

Thus, while the majority of public housing residents will be displaced to other neighborhoods less desirable to developers, those who remain in order to legitimize the destruction of public housing will be carefully selected, in order that they remain unseen and unheard. The very program calls for houses which look exactly like the ones next door – why? Has the city government suddenly become communistic? Does not this destroy the idea that you get what you deserve? After all, “Neighborhoods are segmented along economic line: families work to climb what can be thought of as a housing ladder and are rewarded for their effort.” (Trojan)

The reasons for the requirement of a physically indistinguishable facade parallel the programmatic requirements I have outlined:

  1. To hide the structure of exploitation: a high-income residence situated immediately next to a very low-income residence would juxtapose the vastly unequal distribution of wealth, but more importantly, would expose ever more clearly the real reason that the land was taken – not to improve conditions for the poor, but to exploit these conditions in order to improve conditions for the rich.
  2. The preservation of the poor on the land is necessary in order to legitimize the land-grab, however, the visibility of the poor is not. In order to ensure status and home values of the land grabbed, the physically indistinguishable facades operate in making the poor invisible..
  3. Physically indistinguishable facades form a camouflage for the exiting of public welfare. With all the facades the same, it is hoped that no one will notice when every last public housing resident has been ousted.

Thus, the equality is not the result of some utopic vision, but a strategy for the minimization of the undesirables which must remain within the neighborhood in order to legitimize the development. Notice that no such regulations exist for the voucherized housing.

Stratagem: ‘Public’ Housing, Private Profit

“Public housing, however, won its greatest support as relocation housing, as the vital link permitting private business to begin the postwar reconstruction of Chicago, not as a social reform providing subsidies to the poor. One principle of the business creed, in other words, was sacrificed so that another – reform at a profit – could be salvaged.” (Second ghetto, 264)

New panders to developers, often giving them upfront money which is to keep the end cost down. The problem (or opportunity depending on which side you are on) is that there really is no way to keep close track of the costs incurred during construction. Why, in a city with so many buildings already built, is the focus always on the creation of new housing?

Preliminary estimates of profit for a similar development of 2300 units at Cabrini were around $100,000,000.00. This does not include developer’s fees and general contractor’s profits. Total revenue estimates for Cabrini were at $435,000,000.00. These estimates were conservative however, given that the sales price of market rate houses was estimated at $250,000.00. (Plan to voucher 46) Due to the increase in housing costs over the span of the Cabrini redevelopment project, there have been reports of houses within the development going for around $500,000.00. (However, ABLA Homes is in an area which will not receive as high a return.)

“The Chicago experience shows that it was the champions of private enterprise who first demanded and then controlled government ‘interference’. It was private enterprise, in fact, that insisted that the government be made ‘bigger’ so that it might be used more profitably.” (Second ghetto 269)

“First, for many years the American political system has supported something best described as ‘commodity egalitarianism.’ By that term I mean the tendency of Congress to provide earmarked income-tested benefits that enable recipients to buy larger amounts of certain commodities than they would voluntarily purchase with the levels of unrestricted income-tested cash assistance Congress is prepared to offer…. Second, subsidizing commodities permits political alliances to develop between advocates of assistance to the poor and producers of the commodities.” (Aaron 95)

Housing allowance is much cheaper per household served than construction-related subsidies, and both are inferior to unconstrained cash assistance (welfare reform). (Aaron 94) The legitimization of constraints is that ‘they dont know how to manage money’, or will ‘spend it on drugs’ i.e. got where they were because of a deficiency – deserved it. But the operation of constraints forces a windfall to certain industries under the auspices of moral righteousness.

“The ultimate question in all urban development proposals is who benefits and who pays. The costs of the redevelopment are most directly born by Cabrini Green public housing residents and indirectly by all citizens in need of affordable housing. …the most immediate and direct benefits will go to private developers who are lined up to implement the Near North Redevelopment Plan.” (Plan to voucher iv)

From page 9-10 of the Plan for Transformation, Year 2, Moving to Work Annual Plan FY 2001, within the table summarizing construction the first heading is ‘Existing Redevelopment Commitments’ with an infinitesimal number 1 superscript. The note which qualifies the heading is the following,

“Subject to the site planning process and developer capacity.’

Stratagem: De-facto Demolition

An intentional disaster – if such a thing exists? (Tribune editorial)

“Furthermore, there are no plans or adequate financing available to rehab or maintain the remaining public housing units… setting the stage for further demolition in the future.”(Plan to voucher, iii)

“They exist like refugees, a step ahead of the demolition crews.” (Falls)

Counter-strategy: Accountability

As urban historian Alexander vonHoffman comments,

‘…history suggests that the best guide to the future of public housing and related programs rests in simply concentrating on providing decent housing to as many low-income people as possible. Although not as lofty a goal as modern housing for everyone, creating a high-rise civilization, or enforced social heterogeneity, it is just as worthy, perhaps even more so.'” (Plan to voucher 51-2)

What are the likely outcomes of this newest ‘effort’?

For sure, to those on the negative end of this scheme the program is already transparent and always the same. The continuance of an attempt to make discrimination invisible. But then, this was never about the people who are living in the housing… who has ever seriously asked them what they want? To ask them would be to acknowledge their existence on some level. What economically diverse housing is really about is allowing the positive receivers to quiet that nagging voice in their head by making the negative ‘go away’.

Why is it that we have not attempted to correct the source of problems instead of their manifestations?

Don’t misunderstand, diversity is a great thing, and it is only through diversity that equal opportunity will ever be afforded. But to blatantly exploit the poor through the public institutions which are meant to aid them in the name of diversity is a crime. A real diversity must be employed, one which includes everyone in success and failure. The kind of ‘diversity’ being employed here is specifically designed not to provide actual diversity.

So lets drop the charade. Lets talk about the real problems of public housing.

Public housing is not some sort of political anomaly, as we all know. Public housing is not some sort of social oddity. The very reason for its failure has stemmed from a politics of segregation and protectionism. It was not for lack of funding that scattered-site housing has not been implemented en masse, but due to local (aldermanic, city-council) opposition. The defining moment for public housing was when its power to locate housing sites was subordinated to Chicago city-council approval. This continues to remain the case. (See chicago tribune articles on dispersal of scattered site housing).

“Chicago still ranks highest among the fifty largest U.S. metropolitan areas in being racially segregated.” (Plan to voucher 14)

Public housing is a societal issue. It is not some local failure of the CHA as a separate and removed entity, but another tool of exploitation. Politics, regional politics, wages, education, and the whole socio-political spectrum are all part of it. These areas fall outside the realm of the housing program because by piece-mealing politics, each individual area conceals its real program as if it were underneath and beyond its boundaries. Neighborhoods are segregated because of poor public education; public education is segregated because of neighborhoods.

Public housing was engineered to be the way it is. It is not a failed plan. The very program of public housing has always been one of a colossal exercise in moral deception, of exploitation in the name of charity. Public housing is a manifestation of the political and social forces at work. It is not a separate issue. Public housing can no longer be separated from all of the other social and political forces as if it were somehow surprising. No longer can we exploit the poor under the auspices of a ‘culture of poverty’ or the ‘evil of high-rises’. What we need to examine is the actual forces which exploited and continue to exploit.

We can no longer self-righteously propose diverse and dispersed without seeing what that really means. We can no longer pretend like alderman and neighborhood associations are not blocking low-income residents from entering into ‘their’ neighborhoods. We can no longer pretend that the constant re-shuffling of low-income residents is not a means of exploitation, of self-fulfilling failure, of de-facto demolition, the creation of an economic wasteland (Hidden war, p. 85-94)) and subsequent land-grabbing. We can no longer pretend that there is any semblance of equal opportunity which legitimizes the failure of the members of the ‘culture of poverty’. We can no longer pretend that diverse does not explicitly and only mean eliminating as many low-income units as politically feasible, and dispersal does not explicitly mean eliminating as many low-income units from your particular constituent neighborhood/city as possible. We can no longer pretend that section 8 vouchers give residents the chance to ‘sell themselves’ and puts ‘the burden of proof’ on them. We can no longer pretend that these children ever got a fair chance, or ever will.

And more than that, we can no longer pretend that it was EVER in the program to provide them with one. In fact, the program is specifically designed not to provide equal opportunity.

We must directly address the issues, the mentalities, the racism and inequalities which are to this day rampant within this society, and which continue to manifest and exploit under the auspices of self-righteousness. We must look beyond the CHA to the city council, to the zoning laws, to neighborhood organizations, to the media, to the public perception of legitimacy, equal opportunity, and what someone ‘deserves’. Public housing is not meant to be fixed with this new aesthetic; this is only the newest round of legitimizing exploitation and containment.

Each and everyone of us must evaluate the positions of privilege offered and not only refuse and expose it, but offer to help destroy the structure which continues privilege. These structures of exploitation continue because of the aggregate of individuals and individual choices to accept the positions of privilege offered through the structure of exploitation.

We must realize our own role in segregationist and protectionist politics. Are we willing to share? Where do we live? Where do we go to school? Where do we eat? Where do we shop? What models are we perpetuating in and through our consumption? Could we fix public housing, public education, etc. Of course we could. But only if everyone is included in the problem and solution. It is interesting to note that unequal distribution is regarded as the basis and fruit of capitalism, while public institutions, such as education, have existed in order force everyone into the capitalistic mode of ‘deserved’ distribution.

We must refuse the program of self-righteous exploitation. We must refuse the illegitimate positions offered in the continual expansion of an invisible structure of exploitation under the guise of diversity. We all must be in this together. We all must shoulder the successes and failures.

No more winking martyrs.



“We need to get the people out of the way so we can rebuild without them.” (Mr. Levi, summarizing the government motive, Falls)

The picture which says “HOME” over the picture of a facade of a public housing high-rise being torn-down is a spoof of a pamphlet used to promote an architectural design contest for the re-development of ABLA Homes. The original pamphlet has a picture of a dilapidated facade of a public housing high-rise with a rusted slide in front of it and the word “HOME” superimposed over the top. These pictures of the terrible conditions of public housing are being used to legitimize the destruction of not only the public housing high-rises, but public housing in general. The irony is that these same sort of pictures of horrible living conditions were used to legitimize the original construction of the projects. Now they are being used to tear them down. The strategy remains the same, the structure remains. It is the visibility which is being adjusted. The high-rise public housing projects were a visible symbol of the government-subsidized structure. As before, the visibility of the poor living conditions is being exploited in order to mask the visibility of the structure of societal exploitation. That is, the visibility of the poor is exploited in order that the structure of exploitation can be made invisible. The visibility of the terrible conditions is increased to cover the visibility of the structure. An aesthetic solution is requested, but the solution is not that of public housing, but of the strategy for making the structure of exploitation invisible. It is the visibility of housing conditions which are discussed, but it is the visibility of the structure of government-subsidized housing which is being adjusted. The visibility of the poor is to be exploited, the developers will profit, and another visual solution is proposed.

Please Excuse the Inconvenience, Another Park Improvement Project is Underway.

A sign reading, “Chicago Park District, Please Excuse the Inconvenience, Another Park Improvement Project is Underway, Richard M. Daley, Mayor” (complete with a Chicago Park District emblem and a Neighborhoods Alive! emblem) is superimposed over the crumbled concrete and rebar of a half-demolished Cabrini building. This sign was posted outside the new accessible entrance at the newly re-habbed Seward Park, located in the heart of Cabrini Green. (The portion of the sign not pictured also said, “Seward Park Accessibility Improvement” and had a list of all the people involved. More accessible to whom? one might ask..) A new Dominick’s mini-mall is across the street. The entire park was recently redone, landscaped, grass planted and a clock tower added. Other improvements to the Cabrini neighborhood have included a new Jenner elementary school and new Police station. Of course, none of these improvements would have happened had it not been clear that the real improvement was to take place: the destruction of the high-rises and the removal of the public housing residents.

A physically indistinguishable facade

A surreal picture of a red brick single family townhome recently constructed on what used to be Cabrini Green. This house has the classic developer elements – bright red brick, wrought iron fences surrounding the front lawn, a ‘double’ gable roof. The entire block is filled with variations of these – varied in their facade and roof forms, but similar enough in materials and other treatments that it is ensured that everyone knows it is part of the same development.

These have definitely succeeeded, thus far, in hiding the poor – by the simultaneous strategy of dispersal and false facades. We have to question however, whether there are any low-income units at all. It is doubtful that a 3000 square foot single family house has been given to a ‘model’ public housing family. More likely, other strategies of concealment have been employed – locating entries in the back or on the side, providing basement or attic units. These are the strategies which will be interesting to see when the developments are implemented. This is the area to be further studied. How is the massive discrepancy of income and status concealed within the architectural development?


A version of this essay was submitted to the design competition, March 5, 2001. The essay was not really a ‘design’ proposal – as it did not fit the programmatic requirements set forth by the CHA. Instead it was a proposal for re-examining the program of public housing.

The competetion was for a new mixed-income housing development within the ABLA neighborhood on the city’s Near West Side….ABLA is adjacent to University of Illinois at Chicago, Little Italy, and the Illinois Medical District.

Submission requirements: ‘One essay of 200 words or less describing the individual architect or firm’s philosophy regarding the essence of house. Five black-and-white or color images of built or unbuilt work. The images can be of residential, institutional, commercial, etc., but must represent the designer’s design philosophy and applicable experience.’

Program: ‘The housing development to be designed in this competition shall accommodate three income levels for a fully integrated mixed-income community that involves public housing units, affordable housing units and market rate housing. Regardless of income type, all units must be designed to high standards and physically indistinguishable. The housing development must be constructed for a specified number of units within a specified budget and should be easily maintained.’

List of Works Cited

Aaron: Bradbuy, Katharine and Downs, Anthony, ed. Do Housing Allowances Work? “Policy implications: A Progress report” Henry J. Aaron, The Brookings Institute, Washington D.C. 1981.

Crossing: Rubinowitz, Leonard S. and Rosenbaum, James E. Crossing the Class and Color Lines: From Public Housing to White Suburbia. University of Chicago Press 2000. A study of the Gautreau program

Falls: Eig, Jonathan. “A housing project falls, but the poor resist orders to move out.” WSJ Dec. 10 2000. P A1(W).

Hidden War: Popkin, Susan J., The Hidden War, Crime and Tragedy in Public Housing, 2000.

Noah, Timothy. “The Paradox of Public Housing” Fortune, Jan. 11, 1999

Plan to voucher: Wright, Patricia et. al. Natalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement, “The Plan to Voucher out Public Housing” Municipal Collection, Chicago Public Library.

Raising hopes: Whitman, David and McCoy, Frank. “Raising hopes by razing high-rises.” US News and World Report, Feb. 21, 2000 p. 28)

Reclaiming the inner city: Marciniak, Ed. Reclaiming the Inner City. National Center for Urban-Ethnic Affairs, Washington, D.C. 1986.

Second Ghetto: Hirsch, Arnold. Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago. 1940-60, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1998. An excellent book detailing the political forces and exploitation of the public housing mechanism.

St. Louis: Parish, Norm “Providing Decent Housing fora all the people of this region” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 30,2000.

Tribune editorial: Chicago tribune editorial April 26, 1999

Tribune, Harvey: Smallwood, Lola “Setting a Limit: Harvey Mayor Calls for Moratorium on Rent Subsidies in His Suburb, Chicago Tribune, August 19, 2000 p. 10.

Trojan: Husock, Howard.’Voucher plan for housing: a Trojan horse. WSJ, dec. 21 1994, p. A14(E))