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 Revitalizing Public Housing Communities


The Chicago Housing Authority’s $1.5 billion Plan for Transformation, begun in 2000 and updated in 2013 as Plan Forward, forms the backdrop of BPI’s current public housing work.  Under the Plan, CHA demolished nearly all its large high-rise public housing developments and pledged to provide 25,000 new or rehabilitated public housing units. While the resulting relocation of thousands of public housing families and re-creation of entire communities are endeavors of enormous proportion, some aspects of which have been handled in ways detrimental to residents, the opportunity to improve the lives of Chicago’s public housing residents on the scale made possible by the Plan for Transformation is highly significant.  BPI views the Plan as an opportunity, if done well, to extend the promise of Gautreaux to thousands of additional families.  In 2009, BPI released a comprehensive report on the first decade of the Transformation Plan, entitled The Third Side: A Mid-Course Report on Chicago’s Transformation of Public Housing.

In the context of CHA’s revitalization efforts, BPI works to protect the rights of public housing residents, ensure that mixed-income communities created under the Plan are viable and inclusive, expand housing opportunities for CHA residents and applicants,and focus attention on the needs of the traditional 100% public housing developments that remain.

Now, more than fifteen years into Chicago’s Plan For Transformation, a great deal of the planned construction remains to be completed in the mixed-income developments, with land acquisition and funding issues still to be resolved.

In addition, as public housing families encounter the requirements for entry to the new mixed-income developments, continued attention to pre- and post-move supportive services for relocating families is required.  At many mixed-income sites, community-building issues — economic development, neighborhood facilities such as schools, parks, and community centers, and questions of resident governance and representation — are only beginning to be addressed, with a new emphasis in Plan Forward.

Because important elements of the Plan must either conform to court-ordered Gautreaux requirements or receive the court’s explicit support, BPI is in a unique position to affect Transformation Plan policy development and implementation. In our Gautreaux role, BPI is dedicated to ensuring that the Plan for Transformation will end the geographic and economic isolation, racial segregation, and inhumane conditions that have long marked Chicago’s public housing.

Mixed-Income Redevelopment

Since most newly developed units will be located on the sites of previous CHA developments, prior approval is required from the Gautreaux court. As Gautreaux plaintiff class counsel, BPI staff members serve on Working Groups that oversee each redevelopment site.  Other Working Group members include representatives of CHA, the City, the CHA residents’ Local Advisory Council (LAC), and the community.  Working Groups participate in the selection of developer teams, the preparation of requests for proposals, and the monitoring of implementation of site-specific plans.  When site plans are agreed on, BPI and CHA attorneys petition the Gautreaux Court for approval to proceed.

In evaluating physical development plans, BPI staff make it a priority to ensure that CHA residents will not be segregated in these mixed-income settings.  Building bridges within the new mixed-income developments is also essential to long-term success.  Creating shared community standards, the opportunity for ongoing social interaction, and establishing effective resident governance organizations are all part of the challenge.  This can include creating natural places where residents interact, whether a “town square” or local restaurant, which can go a long way toward normalizing neighborly relationships.  Government agencies, the civic community, and Chicago’s business and philanthropic organizations have begun to invest in neighborhood planning for economic development in and around the Transformation Plan communities.  City planners are working on strategies to provide new public facilities such as schools, libraries, parks, as well as police and fire stations.

Strengthening neighborhoods is an important goal of the Plan for Transformation and Plan Forward.  When successful, neighborhood revitalization efforts will help returning CHA residents integrate into the economic and social fabric of their new neighborhoods and help overcome the historic isolation of these neighborhoods from the rest of the city and the Chicago region.

For information on CHA’s plans for each redevelopment site, as well as official Plan for Transformation and Plan Forward documents, see

Traditional Public Housing Developments

In the early years of the Transformation Plan, BPI grew increasingly concerned about families “left behind”—those who wouldn’t have the opportunity to live in the new mixed-income communities or move to private homes in better neighborhoods. Many of CHA’s most disadvantaged families were moved to highly segregated, 100 percent public housing developments such as Altgeld Gardens, Dearborn Homes, and Wentworth Gardens. BPI’s position—one with which the Gautreaux judge has agreed—is that while housing in the new mixed-income communities can  be viewed as “relief” for members of the Gautreaux plaintiff class, housing in CHA’s “traditional” 100 percent public housing developments, located in racially segregated neighborhoods, cannot. BPI continues to work with CHA to explore ways to improve the quality of life and life opportunities for families in these traditional developments, while at the same time urging consideration of entirely different housing configurations.

In CHA’s largest traditional development, Altgeld Gardens, BPI’s public housing and public education teams have joined forces in a focused effort to strengthen the community and improve the lives of its families, particularly the children.  For more information on BPI’s efforts in Altgeld Gardens, click here.


  • Participating in comprehensive physical planning to develop public housing in mixed-income communities that include good schools, adequate youth programming, parks, safe and welcoming public spaces, and economic development.

  • Ensuring that public housing apartments in mixed-income communities are dispersed throughout the community, not segregated.

  • Promoting effective social and supportive services and community building strategies to create viable and inclusive mixed-income communities.
  • Prioritizing CHA’s real estate acquisition programs on locations with increased opportunities.
  • Developing strategies to address the needs of residents living in traditional public housing.

  • Strengthening mobility counseling for families choosing housing vouchers, to maximize their chances of moving into neighborhoods that provide the best possible life opportunities.

CHA’S Plan for Transformation

In compliance with major changes in national public housing policy mandated by Congress, the Chicago Housing Authority formally announced its Plan for Transformation in January, 2000.  Originally conceived as a 10-year project, and now extended in its 17th year, the Plan proposed a “fundamentally new approach to public housing in Chicago.”  The scope of Chicago’s Plan for Transformation is immense.  It contemplates the demolition of upwards of 18,000 units of public housing and the redevelopment or rehabilitation of no fewer than 25,000 units, much larger than any other public housing redevelopment program in the country.  Under the Plan, CHA is to provide units in several configurations: mixed-income family units in developments that include but are not dominated by public housing; rehabilitated units in 100% public housing developments; and apartments under long-term rent subsidy contracts in privately owned developments; as well as rehabilitated senior and scattered-site apartments.

The Plan for Transformation presents an opportunity to revitalize some of Chicago’s poorest communities.  As public housing developments are replaced with mixed-income communities and traditional developments rehabilitated, the potential exists not only to integrate public housing with affordable and market-rate units, but also to stimulate revitalization of the surrounding community.  It is encouraging that some, albeit limited, residential, retail, and commercial development is taking place in and around nearly every Transformation Plan site.

Schools in Public Housing Communities

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and its students have been deeply affected by CHA’s Transformation Plan.  Yet for many years little joint planning took place between CHA and CPS even though thousands of children living in public housing were vacating some schools and moving to others as their families were relocated under the Plan for Transformation.

As a result, BPI created its Schools in Transformation Communities project to focus on the positive outcomes that can result when CHA and CPS work more closely together.   As members of each CHA Working Group that oversees development of a CHA mixed-income community, BPI staff emphasizes the importance of quality education options in each of these new communities.

BPI has provided CHA with customized school information packets to distribute to parents, and has acted in partnership with other interested stakeholders on behalf of specific school communities. Our most comprehensive initiative to integrate our public housing and public education efforts and to increase CHA-CPS coordination has been the formation of the Altgeld-Riverdale Early Learning Coalition, a community-wide coalition dedicated to improving early childhood learning in CHA’s largest traditional public housing development.







Recipient of the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions

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