Monday, March 06, 2006

On Friday, I had the good fortune of attending the Gautreaux at 40 Conference held by Northwestern's School of Law and Institute for Policy Research. The conference brought in some seriously high level brainpower from around the nation including -- Xavier de Sousa Briggs, Rhonda Y. Williams, Mary Pattillo, Alex Polikoff, Sudhir Venkatesh, and Susan Popkin. It also included a lot of really smart public housing residents and voucher holders who don't have web sites.

For those unaware, the case of Gautreaux v. HUD and the Chicago Housing Authority was argued before the Supreme Court in 1969. The decision found that the CHA had been perpetuating segregation. The result was a mobility program to give public housing residents a voucher and a choice to move to "opportunity areas" -- census tracts which had low concentrations of poverty and low percentages of African American populations. (Almost 100% of CHA residents are black, which is further evidence of the dual system.)

My organization, the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities implemented the mobility program, which is known as the Gautreaux Program. The program moved 7,100 families from CHA developments to opportunity areas (the number of families the CHA was required to help move). Subsequent contracts moved another 1,400 families. The CHA ended its relationship with the Leadership Council in October 2005.

These moves both benefited the individuals themselves (as documented in interviews and research) and affirmatively furthered fair housing as each move made a dent in desegregating the Chicago region both racially and economically. So, the questions of the day all focused on where we go now that the nation's first, largest, and most successful mobility program has marked its 40th year. The answers mostly mirrored the policies that guide the programs of the Leadership Council today.

I think the consensus of the conference was that mobility programs are a good way to help people help themselves. But, there are other solutions that should be used in tandem. And, in the situation we're facing in Chicago -- the Plan for Transformation -- means that we also need to strategize about how to best ensure that those who do not choose to move are not displaced involuntarily. An important component of this process is the input from the residents and communities that these programs aim to assist. Of course, these are also the people who actually live the experience of the Plan for Transformation unlike advocates, researchers, and politicians who, for the most part, do not.

I'll add more of my thoughts later/