New study finds CHA’s efforts to relocate public housing residents has found some success

A new report from the Urban Land Institute suggests the Chicago Housing Authority’s efforts to move public housing residents out of public high-rise projects into other housing has been successful in several ways:

A new report released Monday by the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, paints a largely positive picture of the Chicago Housing Authority efforts. The study comes while the CHA is retooling its Plan for Transformation, an ambitious multi-year effort begun in 1999 that broke up concentrated high-rise developments…

Several years ago the Urban Institute told CHA that moving families wasn’t simply a construction issue; to succeed, residents needed services. Popkin said that steep learning curve for CHA has paid off after the housing agency implemented a strong resident service program in 2007.

Researchers say that vulnerable residents need intensive wraparound services to address mental health, low literacy and lack of job skills. The report suggests that residents who’ve received intensive case management have fared better. The services cost about $2,900 annually per household but can increase family stability and reduce depression. CHA families have grappled with the trauma of poverty: physical health problems, anxiety, high mortality rates.

But Popkin said it’s not all a pretty picture. Emphasis on adults has meant that improvements have not always trickled down to children. Relocation has been especially hard on them and causes disruption in school and socially.

“I worry a lot about the kids,” Popkin said. “The services that helped the adults do better don’t seem to have helped the kids. It’s an urgent issue. These are kids who have grown up in families who’ve lived in chronic disadvantage for generations and it’s going to take more than just moving to slightly safer places to help get them on a better trajectory.”

Some young people have struggled academically and have had a tough time adapting to new neighborhoods where they are perceived as outsiders. And they continue to live amid violence. The Urban Institute is currently working on CHA incorporating a dual generation approach at Altgeld Gardens, a public housing development on the southern edge of the city.

You can read the reports for yourself on The Urban Institute website here. It looks like the full story of relocated public housing residents is more complicated than this news story suggests. While there has been good movement on several factors, including more psychological factors like feelings of safety and fighting depression (which is what Popkin and several other authors also report in the very interesting 2010 book Moving to Opportunity: The Story of an American Experiment to Fight Ghetto Poverty), we don’t yet know the long-term effects of relocation. For example, the abstract for Brief 2 suggests:

Those who got intensive case management and supportive services through the Chicago Family Case Management Demonstration have significantly lower rates of depression, better physical health, and higher rates of employment. However, even with these gains, many adults struggle with extremely high rates of debilitating chronic illnesses that prevent them from finding full-time employment and many children still grapple with the fallout from growing up with chronic violence.

Relocation is not a quick fix when there are deeper issues involved including residential segregation, discrimination, poverty, and acquiring social and human capital. As Brief 1 notes, relocated residents would benefit from ongoing services…but this requires ongoing funding.

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