The growing crisis in affordable housing in Chicago was examined in detail at a spirited forum and rally on March 23. The event, organized by the Coalition for Fair Community Development, involved cultural presentations and exploration of the many dimensions of the artificially engineered housing crisis.

Neris Ramos from the Metropolitan Tenants’ Organization set the stage by announcing that the Coalition has given Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley a grade of “F” for his housing policies, which entail both the destruction of existing affordable housing and encouragement of speculative development activities, which drive up the cost of housing.

While the worst housing problems are to be found in the African-American community, representatives of Mexican-American, Chinese, Puerto Rican and American Indian communities also talked about their situations in detail.

Clearly, the problem is neither new nor accidental. Two speakers in particular, African-American journalist Sisi Donald Mosby and Dr. Jose Lopez, director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, talked about how city government policy, especially since World War II, has deliberately manipulated housing issues for both economic and political ends.

Mosby pointed out that the famous “projects” of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) include many structurally sound buildings and need not be seen as inevitable slums, but became slums because of racism, political neglect and corruption. For years, these “projects” were seen as sources of patronage jobs and the means whereby crooked building and equipment contracts could be farmed out to politically connected companies.

One example was that at one point so many unneeded stoves were accumulated in CHA storerooms for so long that the doors fell off because their screws had rusted with age. Yet Chicago taxpayers had paid for those ovens, the money going to politically connected contractors.

Project buildings were over-stuffed with people and their maintenance was neglected for years, and then the residents were blamed for “destroying the building.” Now, city economic and political leaders find that some of the land the projects stand on is extremely valuable, so the big hurry is to tear the projects down, without taking adequate measures to absorb the 50,000 people to be displaced, so that the land can be opened up to developers.

Lopez and Mosby also pointed out the political dimensions of the current rush to hustle low-income African Americans and Latinos out of the inner city. After the 1968 riots, the “Chicago 21 Plan” was developed whereby major institutions would be used as the anchors of corridors of “redevelopment,” which would facilitate removal of slum areas, entailing also the removal of slum dwellers and the breaking up of concentrations of people likely to oppose city government policy.

This Chicago 21 Plan continues to this day, now utilizing such things as Empowerment Zones and Tax Increment Financing Districts to work its purpose.

The Coalition for Fair Community Development demands a halt to these practices and 1) the stabilization of rents and 2) the setting aside of 30 percent of all new housing construction for low- and middle-income people.

Other groups sponsoring the event included the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, the Coalition to Protect Public Housing, the Coalition of African, Asian, Latin American and European Immigrants, Concerned Citizens of Garfield Park, the Black Economic and Political Action Network and the Roosevelt University New Deal Studies Program.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org

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