Is Chicago's 'Transformed' Cabrini-Green 'Too Good for Poor People'?

As a part of Chicago's $1.4 billion "Plan for Transformation," the once massive Cabrini-Green project has been redeveloped into a mix of affordable, public and market housing. But 80% of the former tenants have moved away.

Read Time: 3 minutes

March 13, 2008, 10:00 AM PDT

By Michael Dudley


"Cabrini-Green is Chicago's best-known housing project, and was the first to see the wrecking ball. At its height, Cabrini was home to 15,000 residents spread over 15 red-brick high-rises (the "Reds"), eight 16-story towers (the "Whites"), and a patch of street-level row houses. The row houses, built in 1942, were originally home to Italian immigrants; 15 years later, the high-rises began to go up to accommodate the growing number of Southern blacks moving to Chicago. Before long, Cabrini-Green became a segregated black ghetto with a reputation for crime, poverty, and urban decay.

By 2000, the Chicago Housing Authority was entrusted with a $1.4 billion budget to overhaul its public housing, with much of the initial funding coming from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Finally, after decades of neglect and agency corruption, the CHA-which had been taken over for a time by HUD-would begin dismantling its public housing system in a strategy called the Plan for Transformation or, more simply, the Plan.

The Plan was originally scheduled for completion next year, but the deadline has been extended to 2015, due in part to tenant litigation and the drying up of federal funds. When it's done, 25,000 public-housing units will have been razed or rehabilitated across the city. The impact of the Plan on the city's landscape is already unmistakable. Cabrini-Green, once a massive cluster of high-rises and row houses just a 10-minute walk from the elegant stores of Michigan Avenue, is mostly gone. A handful of buildings remain, surrounded on all sides by new condominiums and booming retail stores. Twenty percent of these condos have been set aside as affordable housing; a third will be public housing. The rest are selling for up to $850,000 a piece. Since the Plan launched, in 2000, more than $2 billion in residential property has been sold within two blocks of Cabrini.

When the Plan came to Cabrini, all lease-abiding residents were given a legal "right to return" to a new apartment on-site, but those who didn't want to wait years for a new home, or who feared they wouldn't qualify, could take a rent subsidy voucher, called a Section 8, and live elsewhere. More than 80 percent of the tenants who opted for this voucher have moved to areas of Chicago more segregated, isolated, and poor than Cabrini had been.

Miami announced recently that it will pursue a similar strategy, joining other American cities already following Chicago's lead. What this will mean for the country's urban poor is not yet known-whether plans like this will deliver their promise of safe, improved shelter, or merely serve as city-sponsored gentrification schemes, reducing the amount of safe housing available to the country's neediest people. Public-housing advocates express concern about the implementation of such a national-scale strategy before the real human costs can be measured."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008 in GOOD Magazine

Chicago Commute

The Right to Mobility

As we consider how to decarbonize transportation, preserving mobility, especially for lower- and middle-income people, must be a priority.

January 26, 2023 - Angie Schmitt

Sharrow bike markings on black asphalt two-lane road with snowy trees

Early Sharrow Booster: ‘I Was Wrong’

The lane marking was meant to raise awareness and instill shared respect among drivers and cyclists. But their inefficiency has led supporters to denounce sharrows, pushing instead for more robust bike infrastructure that truly protects riders.

January 26, 2023 - Streetsblog USA

View of stone-paved street with pedestrians and "Farmers Market" neon sign on left and old buildings on right in Seattle, Washington

Push and Pull: The Link Between Walkability and Affordability

The increased demand for walkable urban spaces could make them more and more exclusionary if cities don’t pursue policies to limit displacement and boost affordability.

January 27, 2023 - Smart Cities Dive

View of Tacoma, Washington with Mount Rainier in background

Tacoma Developing New Housing Policy

The city’s Home in Tacoma plan is designed to address the region’s growth and rising housing prices, but faces local backlash over density and affordability concerns.

31 minutes ago - The Urbanist

Green alley under construction

A New Paradigm for Stormwater Management

Rather than shuttling stormwater away from the city and into the ocean as quickly as possible, Los Angeles is now—slowly—moving toward a ‘city-as-sponge’ approach that would capture and reclaim more water to recharge crucial reservoirs.

1 hour ago - Curbed

Aerial view of residential neighborhood in La Habra, California at sunset

Orange County Project Could Go Forward Under ‘Builder’s Remedy’

The nation’s largest home builder could receive approval for a 530-unit development under an obscure state law as the city of La Habra’s zoning laws hang in limbo after the state rejected its proposed housing plan.

2 hours ago - Orange County Register