Cabrini-Green Housing Project in Chicago Meets Its End

          From time to time, we note in this blog the never-ceasing failures of redevelopment projects – some little, and some big. Now, there is a biggie on the radar screen. USA Today reports that the last few residents of the notorious Cabrini-Green urban redevelopment project in Chicago are being evicted so that this big, high-rise housing project, built starting in 1942 as a projected solution to urban housing problems, can be demolished and its site redeveloped. See Karen Hawkins, Chicago Closes Cabrini-Green Project, USA Today, December 2, 2010, at p. 2A.

 Cabrini-Green is an outstanding example of how much-touted, well-intentioned government programs can make things worse. The short version is that when C-G first opened, it was racially integrated, with many inhabitants being of the working and lower middle classes. But then the feds came up with a brain storm that limited public housing tenants’ rent to 25% of their income. Which meant that as the tenants prospered and their incomes increased, 25% of those incomes could now rent better housing elsewhere, so they started moving out, leaving behind only the poorest and most government-dependent folks as the C-G inhabitants. The predictable happened: limited to poor inhabitants who could not leave, C-G became a dreary human warehouse that by degrees was overwhelmed by crime and despair. The Chicago Tribune reported that by 1991 there were 4.3 violent crimes committed each month for every 100 inhabitants. The next year that figure went up to 5.5 – a 28% increase.

Long story short, like the notorious Pruitt-Igoe public housing project in St. Louis, that had to be demolished, C-G has now met the same fate.

It might be interesting for some diligent researcher to dig through the public statements of Chicago politicians, uttered around 1942, and see all the glowing prognostications of the urban nirvana that was about to be achieved through the construction of C-G. But we haven’t seen such a study. Nor have we seen a financial reckoning – a toting up of the cost of that caper, that had to be incurred by the taxpayers, only to come to this dead end. We aren’t holding our breath, and we suggest that you don’t either.

Redevelopment. Ain’t it grand?