Court Approves Settlement In Landmark ‘Gautreaux’ Desegregation Lawsuit Blocking Racial Discrimination In Public Housing

Descendants of Dorothy Gautreaux gather around Alexander Polikoff (center), BPI’s Co-Director of Public Housing and Senior Staff Counsel, at the Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority settlement hearing on January 17, 2019.

Culminating one of the longest-running civil rights lawsuits in U. S. history, a federal district court judge today approved a settlement in a landmark case requiring Chicago to desegregate its public housing.

U.S. District Judge Marvin Aspen ratified the proposed agreement in the watershed Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority lawsuit, which originated in 1966 and became a legal bulwark against a calculated pattern of racial discrimination that had confined the city’s African-American public housing tenants to neighborhoods that were black and poor, inhibiting their opportunity for economic betterment.

The proposed settlement between the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and BPI lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the case creates a detailed road map for CHA to complete its Gautreaux obligations—which have required the agency to offset the impacts of racial segregation caused by its historic building and tenant assignment practices—by July 31, 2024.

At that time, if CHA has complied with the Settlement Agreement terms, the Gautreaux case would end, concluding a landmark chapter in the national civil rights movement.

“We’re grateful to Judge Aspen for approving this settlement, which we believe provides considerable benefits to public housing residents, while providing CHA with a reasonable path forward and an eventual end to court supervision,” said BPI’s Alexander Polikoff, lead Gautreaux counsel, who has worked on the case since its inception in 1966.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised CHA and BPI for their years of work on the case and for charting a path through to a possible end. “This landmark settlement is a fitting legacy to years of hard work by CHA and BPI to reach an agreement that addresses past wrongs and ensures a strong foundation for future housing development strategies.”

Under terms of the proposed settlement, CHA is obligated to:

  • Abide by a detailed schedule for planning and construction of its “Plan for Transformation” mixed-income communities currently underway or planned.
  • Develop housing for families in non-mixed income communities in opportunity areas until at least 50 percent of all such units are in opportunity areas.
  • Strengthen its voucher mobility program to better enable families to live in opportunity areas, if they choose to do so.
  • Create early learning childhood development programs at four public housing complexes, replicating a program currently in place at the Altgeld Gardens development.

“In the three years that I have had the privilege of leading CHA, I have been impressed with the partnerships formed by the CHA, BPI, community leaders and resident leaders and with the commitment of CHA staff to assure equitable access for all who depend on CHA for their housing to decent and safe housing, good schools, community amenities, training, jobs, parks and recreation,” said CHA CEO Eugene E. Jones, Jr.

The agreement acknowledges that the CHA has accomplished much over the past 50 years under the Gautreaux case, including:

  • Replacement of its large, 100 percent public housing projects such as Cabrini-Green, Stateway Gardens and Robert Taylor Homes with new mixed-income communities;
  • Development of a substantial number of new or rehabilitated public housing apartments across the city; and
  • Creation of a voucher program that currently provides subsidized housing opportunities in the private market in all 77 of Chicago’s community areas and which now serves more Chicago families than public housing.

Filed in 1966 by attorney Alexander Polikoff on behalf of Dorothy Gautreaux and other public housing residents, the Gautreaux lawsuit put a spotlight on how the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) had engaged in a pattern of racial discrimination and segregation and violated the plaintiffs’ civil rights by concentrating its subsidized apartments for low-income families solely in poor, minority neighborhoods. Polikoff later joined the non-profit advocacy group Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI) which spearheaded the case for decades.

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