Voice of the Voiceless

Anyone who knows anything about the current realities of Chicago’s public housing would agree that its developments desperately need repair. Years of low or no maintenance have taken their toll on buildings that have housed thousands of low-income residents and their families for years and, in some cases, generations.

In 1996, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mandated the demolition of more than 100,000 units of public housing nationwide. Of that number, 18,000 units—nearly 20 percent—scheduled for demolition are in Chicago, making the Windy City the target of the largest public housing demolition in the country’s history.

An outside observer might conclude that tearing down unsightly and poorly maintained buildings is the most logical thing to do. But HUD, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), and the city of Chicago do not have in place an adequate housing replacement plan for the 42,000 residents—most of whom are women and children—who would be left homeless after the demolition. Experts say there are already 15,000 homeless people in Chicago and nearly two families for each available low-income unit.

To ensure they have a voice in this issue, residents joined with Chicago advocacy groups in 1996 to form the Coalition to Protect Public Housing. The coalition is comprised of residents and four other main groups: the Community Renewal Society, the Chicago Coalition to Protect the Homeless, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, and the Metropolitan Tenants Organization. "These groups work together to change the face of public housing without changing the faces within public housing," said Wardell Yotaghan, resident and coalition leader.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1999
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