After all, suburbs are no longer the bastions of privilege they once were (though majority white suburbs still, for the most part, are). Since the recession, it’s the exurbs in Chicago that have had job growth, while affordable housing near those jobs is often hard to find. Poverty is growing in suburbs across the country, including in Chicago, and moving families blindly out of the city may do more harm than good.
That’s why Chicago’s leaders are now focusing on helping low-income people live in mixed-income neighborhoods in both the suburbs and the city that have good access to transit and jobs, high homeownership rates, low commute times, walkable areas and a low percentage of people receiving public-housing assistance, said Robin Snyderman, a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who also works as a consultant on housing policy in Chicago.
Nine housing authorities now participate in a regional pool of resources that began more than a decade ago. They include authorities in counties such as DuPage, Lake, and McHenry, using the money to build nearly 30 mixed-income developments in “opportunity areas” that are near transit and job opportunities.
“Just getting rental housing into some of these communities was hard to do for many years,” said Snyderman said.
A pilot program launched in 2011, the Chicago Region Housing Choice Initiative (CRHCI), encourages families to use vouchers to move to some of these locations, giving them counseling to help them do so.
Regional authorities and mayors have “adopted new tools for promoting inclusion and diversity, building on the lessons learned from Gautreaux,” she said. “I feel more hopeful that the historic segregation in the Chicago region can be transformed—because it’s now not all on the shoulders of the public housing authority,” she said.
See this earlier post about some of the results of the Moving To Opportunity program. These programs aren’t immediate panaceas and progress is often slow. It took decades to get Gautreaux into action and more time to assess results from MTO. Additionally, it can be difficult to get wealthier suburbs to buy in – if they do talk about affordable housing, it tends to involve seniors, young college graduates, or civil servants, not actually poorer residents.
In all, residential segregation is a difficult problem to address. If it is all left to the market, wealthier residents will move to nicer suburbs, maintaining or increasing their life chances, and then limit the access of others to move into their communities (even if they need them as workers in that community). Social programs can help but they can be costly, it takes time to assess their effectiveness, and it requires wealthier communities to get on board. This is one of those social problems that requires patience, active efforts, and time to see social change occur.