Friday, May 9, 2014

Good Intentions Gone Wrong - Low-Income Housing Edition

Demolition of Chicago's Cabrini Green public housing / Senor Codo CC BY-SA 2.0

The Atlantic posted a story today about a documentary that commenced in 2007 and aims to examine what's happened to poor folks in Atlanta, particularly former housing project residents, in the wake of all of the city's public housing units being torn down over the last 20 years. 

The story's conclusion makes a powerful point:

"The phrase 'The Atlanta Way' was used throughout the 20th century to describe the processes of compromise between black and white elites, a negotiation strategy that prevented both total chaos and real progress for the city during the civil rights era. Williams heard this phrase over and over again from displaced residents, and he's come to think of the process of demolition and revitalization as one defined by this top-down strategy. 'It's the idea of the gentry, the landowning class, or the higher ups making decisions which affect the lower ends,' he says. 'That's what's happening in Atlanta.'"

No doubt.  That's what's happening all over the country, probably since its founding (but with less racial diversity among "the elite" in most places.)  The move away from public housing "projects" and toward subsidizing private development, in particular, is a story of well-meaning elites making serious policy reforms with little to no real understanding (or perhaps care) for how those policies will actually impact the population they're ostensibly trying to help.