If there is a miracle worker among public housing officials, it is Vincent Lane, chairman of the Chicago Public Housing Authority. In 1990, setting out to disprove the notion that high-rise public housing always fails, he opened Lake Parc Place, a mixed-income-housing experiment that already has been deemed a success.
Chicago police say that crime in the 15-story buildings has all but vanished. And one year after the refurbished project opened, 12 previously unemployed tenants had been hired in security and maintenance jobs, and 15 residents were studying to work in the new day-care center. The project includes nearly equal numbers of welfare recipients and working families earning 50 to 80 percent of the median Chicago-area income.
Lane worked with Congress on the Lake Parc experiment, receiving a Mixed-Income New Communities Strategy (MINCS) demonstration grant as part of the National Affordable Housing Act of 1990. The grant was designed to test the effectiveness of using mixed housing to revitalize troubled neighborhoods.
Chicago is proving to be the real testing ground for new concepts in public housing. Before the Lake Parc experiment, the city launched the Gautreaux Assisted Housing Program in 1976, after the Supreme Court ruled that the Chicago Housing Authority and HUD had discriminated in tenant-and site-selection practices. Although the program was created to compensate for past racial discrimination, it has become a ground-breaking experiment in remedying economic exclusion. The program moves low-income families, many of them black, into primarily white neighborhoods throughout the Chicago suburbs. As of 1991, 4,000 families had participated in the Gautreaux experiment.#
Thus far, mothers have been more satisfied with the suburban schools and felt that teachers there were more committed and competent than teachers in the city schools. Moreover, newcomers' grades did not fall despite the higher academic standards of their new schools. Studies also found that suburban adults were more likely to be employed than those who stayed in the city.
Only about 500 families a year are relocated under the Gautreaux program, after competing in an annual lottery for “vouchers” to use for rent subsidies in suburban apartments.
Despite its success, the program has provoked some controversy because its basic premises are that public housing can be inadequate and racially segregated. And it dodges the problem by allowing people to move instead of the fixing up the projects.
Lane calls Gautreaux a “stealth program” because it enables the new suburban residents to quietly blend into the community. “If it were more open, there would be more problems” with suburban resistance, he said.##
Congress last year created “Moving to Opportunity” -- modeled on Chicago's Gautreaux Program -- as a $113 million demonstration program to be carried out in cities of more than 350,000 population. While describing the new program as designed to give poor people a fresh start in new surroundings, HUD Secretary Henry G. Cisneros acknowledged it also would be “a chance to rescue families from problems the government helped create.”*
# Anne B. Shlay, “Family Self-Sufficiency and Housing,” a paper presented at the Fannie Mae housing conference, June 23, 1993.
## Lane spoke June 23, 1993 at the Fannie Mae conference.
Quoted in The Washington Post, July 13, 1993.