Mixed-income housing is a type of development that includes households of varying levels of income (low – high) living in the same neighbourhood; it includes affordable housing as well as market rate housing.
Nowhere in the United States has the failure of high-rise public housing complexes been more visible than in the city of Chicago. The large-scale development of public housing in the 1950’s onwards – in the context of urban renewal – counterproductively led to social segregation and the isolation of low-income African American families in mismanaged, poverty stricken high-rise apartments. These same areas, as a result, were notoriously linked to high levels of crime and corruption within the city.
In response to these circumstances, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) announced intentions in the late 90’s to reshape the physical and social landscape of public housing within the city. This was to include the gradual demolition of the abandoned and deteriorated public housing buildings, followed by the relocation of thousands of low-income families into mixed-income communities. Usually, like the cases in Chicago, mixed-income housing developments are constructed on the same footprint of former public housing properties gone wrong. The goals claimed for these policies include the promise of inclusion and subsequent benefits that should accrue from integrating low-income residents into safe, well-functioning and better connected neighbourhoods, that is poverty alleviation, de-segregation and urban revitalisation
In 2000, the CHA established Working Groups as a principal participatory mechanism to inform design and oversee implementation of mixed-income redevelopment. Current policy allows for two public housing resident leaders to serve on each Working Group alongside a range of professional stakeholders. Additionally, the Office of the Ombudsman is a CHA-staffed institution that mediates and responds to individual concerns of relocated public housing residents living in mixed-income developments. In most mixed-income sites, the Working Groups and Ombudsman are the only formal mechanisms specifically established to provide participation for public housing residents, hence there is very little opportunities for significant influence on actual decision-making.
Other participation mechanisms afforded to residents are associational, for example community based organisations providing employment services and community-building exercises. In some instances new associations have been formed, as residents move in and organise themselves around shared common goals. However, it is argued that these types of activities tend to promote participation among residents of similar backgrounds and goes against the premise of inclusion in mixed-income communities.
The limited ability for the residents to effectively voice their ideas and opinions has resulted in only a small percentage of them actually relocating to the new developments. Establishing more inclusive decision-making processes for the new developments needs to be more of a priority. It is essential both for fulfilling the commitment to create revitalised communities where all residents have opportunities for inclusion, and to also create marketable communities where tensions among residents of different income levels are minimised. Otherwise, Chicago’s history may very well repeat itself.
© 2007 David Schalliol
Chaskin, R. J., A. T. Khare, and M. L. Joseph. 2012. “Participation, Deliberation, and Decision-Making: The Dynamics of Inclusion and Exclusion in Mixed-Income Developments.” Urban Affairs Review 48 (6): 863–906.
Doig, Will. “Chicago’s Housing Experiment.” Salon. Salon Media Group, 01 Sept. 2012. Web. 03 Dec. 2014.
Saulny, Susan. “At Housing Project, Both Fear and Renewal.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 17 Mar. 2007. Web. 03 Dec. 2014.
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