On April 25, our Geographical Issues in Housing and Community Development class, led by Professor Charles Barlow, took a field trip to see area CHA housing developments Sullivan Station, Lake Parc Place, and Lake Park Crescent located in the Oakland community. Lake Parc Place, a CHA-built public housing high-rise, was built in the 1950s and underwent extensive renovations in the 1980s. The two 15 story high-rises now host 279 public housing units ranging from one to three bedroom units. A neighboring complex, Sullivan Station, offers a different view of housing options, as it is a mixed-income development, meaning that the facility accommodates both market-rate rentals and 47 public housing units.

Touring the facilities of both public housing and mixed-income housing was useful in placing our readings and class discussions into real-life Chicago housing context. Even greater in helping contextualize was a panel discussion with four distinguished CHA affiliates. The panel was composed of a CHA resident, a development manager, a Housing Choice Voucher executive and a resident services associate. The diverse composition of this panel led to a vibrant discussion. Reading about public housing and the geographical issues in development only offers so much insight; however, exploring the space and listening to a panel offered a much broader perspective that allows for a more critical analysis of the CHA, its public housing, and the transition from the Plan For Transformation to the Plan Forward.

One particularly striking point made during this panel was that there is just now increasing opportunity for open communication between the CHA and its residents. The resident on the panel commented that during her years living in CHA housing, she had attended many meetings where she felt like she was suffocating because the people leading the meetings did not care about her opinions. As negative as this may sound, she remained optimistic that going forward there would be more conversations where residents were asked to voice their opinions on what they needed instead of being given what the CHA decided they should have. At this point, the Housing Choice Voucher executive commented on one difficulty that the CHA sometimes faces. She recounted the case of a family with a Housing Choice Voucher who had found a unit on the private market with inspection violations minor enough that the family was willing to ignore them. In this case, the CHA is torn between appeasing the new family of residents who need to move into their new unit as soon as possible, sussing out the intentions of a landlord that might be intentionally overcharging for a unit because it is being paid for by the CHA instead of by a private renter, and fulfilling its responsibility to ensure a safe and decent living environment for all of its residents. Dilemmas such as this seem to be central to the conflict between resident interests and the interests of the CHA that were being described to us by the current CHA resident.

The panel was an open discussion, but the participants’ disagreements highlighted deficiencies in CHA service, particularly the how the experience of residents differs from those making decisions. Overall, it was agreed that the criticism did not overshadow positive initiatives that have been implemented. Ultimately, the panel enlivened the CHA beyond a institution that is read about and discussed in the classroom. The context of this field trip and engagement with CHA affiliates provided an understanding of the real-world implications of our classroom discussions, and we were very grateful to have the opportunity to attend.

By: Valerie Gutmann, Jade Krueger, and Haley Schwab