How Chicago's Housing Crisis Became a Moral Crisis

Ben Austen traces how foreclosures, crime, and depopulation have decimated areas in the South and West Sides of Chicago, and the 'do-it-yourself empowerment zones' that are trying to make use of vacant properties and turn around these neighborhoods.
June 2, 2013, 7am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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"As hard as the foreclosure crisis hit Chicago, its force has been felt with an unevenness that can seem fiendishly unjust. The U.S. Postal Service, which tracks these numbers, reported that 62,000 properties in Chicago were vacant at the end of last year, with two-thirds of them clustered as if to form a sinkhole in just a few black neighborhoods on the South and West Sides. Currently about 40 percent of all homeowners in these communities owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, and countywide 80,000 foreclosures are wending their way through circuit court."

As we've noted before, Chicago story has become a tale of two cities: the city's hottest urban center surrounded by increasingly impoverished neighborhoods. 

“'We’re not like Detroit, cordoning off sections of the city,' Benet Haller, Chicago’s principal adviser for planning and design, told me. 'But we are like London or Jakarta, with a hyperdense core — a zone of affluence — and something else beyond.' What the housing crisis has revealed, in stark relief, is a Chicago that already looks increasingly like this vision of a ring city, with the moneyed elite residing within the glow of that jewel-like core and the largely ethnic poor and working-class relegated to the peripheries, the banlieues."

"The conundrum that exists in Chicago, though, is what happens to the 'something else beyond' now that the center is prospering," writes Austen. "For the people trying to make their lives in the areas that J. R. and his fellow activists are trying to save, the question is not at all a theoretical one. The way many of them see it, they’re being sacrificed so that the city can be reborn."

Full Story:
Published on Wednesday, May 29, 2013 in The New York Times
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