January 8, 1964, marks the beginning of the War on Poverty. While many financially generous programs sprung out of the war on poverty, many of those who were in poverty did not manage to climb out of it during this time.
In 1965, the Illinois Legislative Commission on Low Income Housing was appointed. Under the chairmanship of State Representative Robert E. Mann, the commission issued its report in 1967 recommending legislation giving the State Housing Board the power to issue bonds for the purpose of providing mortgages and “seed money” to nonprofit and limited-dividend corporations to construct or rehabilitate housing for low- and moderate-income families.
The Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities spearheaded the fair housing movement in the Chicago metro area. Founded in 1966 it was an outgrowth of civil rights marches and a response to the violence during the summer of 1966.
On August 9, 1966, a class action suit was filed in federal court against the CHA and its then executive director, Alvin E. Rose, on behalf of two Black CHA applicants, and four Black CHA tenants including Dorothy Gautreaux. The complaint, in this case, alleged that since 1950, substantially all of the sites selected for CHA family housing projects were “in Negro neighborhoods and within the areas known as the Negro Ghetto because the Authority has deliberately chosen sites for such projects which would avoid the placement of Negro families in white neighborhoods.”
In 1968 North Lawndale residents and the Contracts Buyer League organized to resist contract housing. They held a payment strike to renegotiate their contracts, this strike included over 500 families. Three people were able to renegotiate their contracts and gain ownership of their homes. One hundred and six of the five hundred and fifty-two striking families renegotiated their contracts successfully. Many others left their homes and moved out of North Lawndale to other Black neighborhoods within the Chicago Black Belt. Currently, North Lawndale is one of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods.
In 1968, housing discrimination was outlawed by Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Jones v. Alfred M. Mayer Co. It was held that 1866 Reconstruction-era civil rights act prohibited racial discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. In February of 1969, Judge Richard B. Austin entered his initial memorandum opinion for the Gautreaux case, where he found that the CHA had practiced both racially discriminatory tenant assignment and site selection. Furthermore, Judge Austin found that CHA family housing was ninety-nine percent occupied by Black residents and that ninety-nine and a half percent of the housing projects were in Black neighborhoods. The court directed that the parties involved formulate a comprehensive plan to remedy the situation.
Community development programs aimed at improving the living standards within the Black Belt emerged. According to Bowly “White conservatives favored anything that might keep blacks where they were. White liberals liked the money that community development programs provided. Black politicians grew fond of segregation, too, since it provided a stable electoral base.”
The 1970 Illinois Constitution includes a provision against discrimination in the rental or sale of a property. However, no mechanisms to enforce this were provided. In that year, two studies were published relating to different aspects of CHA housing.
The first was a survey by the Welfare Council of Metropolitan Chicago of social welfare and health services to CHA residents. CHA commissioned this study and paid for it with HUD funding. The study found that providing social services in public housing projects had no major effect on the residents because agencies failed to come in contact with a large majority of CHA residents.
- Cook County Department of Public Aid served the largest amount of residents, at 39 percent in a typical month.
- Chicago Park District about 14 percent during a typical month.
- Other agencies averaged only contacted 1-2 percent of the residents of the local project per month.
The second survey sought to determine how public housing could be utilized to improve the quality of life for its residents. It was financed by the Chicago Model Cities program and HUD. In this survey they found that:
- Once a family was admitted into public housing, it was not likely that they would voluntarily leave.
- 25% of the heads of new CHA families grew up in CHA buildings.
- Large CHA families had more problems than smaller families.
- For families that lived in buildings under five stories, 4.1 percent of residents had criminal or antisocial records.
- For families that lived in buildings over five stories, 28.4 percent of residents had criminal or antisocial records.
- CHA concentrated larger families in high-rises.
June 1971 marks the start of the War on Drugs. After that, housing developments in line with the Gautreaux case started going up. The first housing development specifically built to comply with the Gautreaux decision is a sixty-three-unit group of twenty-one three-flat apartment buildings, on eleven scattered sites in the Uptown, Lake View, and West Town communities of the North Side. These homes were built to look uniform and blend in with surrounding neighborhood so that they would not be recognizable as public housing.
The court ordered that the CHA not build any family housing in the Limited Public Housing Area (census tracts with 30 percent or more nonwhite population, including a one-mile buffer from the perimeter of such census tracts) until it had constructed 700 units in the General Public Housing Area (the remainder of the city, including the North, Northwest, and Southwest Sides). After that, they would operate on a quota basis, with three units in the General Public Housing Area for each unit in the Limited Public Housing Area.
The final phase of the post-Gautreaux housing included 267 units approved before the Nixon moratorium of January 1973. In accordance with the court, approximately half of the tenants were from the surrounding neighborhood. Also, all prospective tenants were given special screening to find what they deemed model tenants. Some new rules for post-Gautreaux public housing included:
- No single housing project could contain units designed for more than 120 persons, except in special cases when the limit could go to 240.
- No new public housing could be built that would aggregate more than 15 percent of the total housing units in its census tract.
- No new units for families with children could be located above the third floor.
During the Gautreaux case, the court of appeals’ order states that “anyone reading the various opinions of the District Court and of this Court quickly discovers a callousness on the part of the appellees [CHA and HUD] towards the rights of the black, underprivileged citizens of Chicago that is beyond comprehension.” On April 20, 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals. They stated that metropolitan relief was proper in the case, and the court left how the housing would be built or leased to the district court.
In early 1976, the CHA submitted to HUD a proposal for a $1.2 million Target Projects Program (TPP) for the Robert Taylor Homes. One of the elements in this program includes management offices staffed by resident employees in all twenty-eight Taylor buildings. The goal of this project was to have large-scale vacancies in the Cabrini-Green and Taylor Homes so that CHA could improve their overall statistics on violence, vandalism, and employment rates of residents.
In 1979, the Illinois General Assembly passed the Human Rights Act (S.B. 1377, P.A. 81-1216) to create the Illinois Human Rights Department and Commission. The state commission gives Illinois a statewide complaint procedure and advocacy group.
To be clear, up until this point there has been no significant financial investment in reversing the discriminatory housing legislation that has affected the Black citizens of Chicago. There has been no significant government effort in creating jobs within the Chicago Black Belt or investing in programming for the youth. The state of Illinois is playing housing project musical chairs. Arrests have gone up as a result of the War on Drugs, and according to police records Blacks are being arrested at proportionately higher rates than any other race but make up a small overall percentage of the population.
“”Real Estate Exploitation Produces Ghettos” Inbetween Peoples, accessed June 19, 2017,
Bowly, D. (2012). The Poorhouse: Subsidized Housing in Chicago. 2nd ed. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
Anderson, A. and Pickering, G. (2008). Confronting the Color Line: The Broken Promise of the Civil Rights Movement in Chicago.
http://www.radicalcartography.net/index.html?chicagodots (map) 2010
http://dcc.newberry.org/collections/chicago-and-the-great-migration (map) 1934