The movement to privatize public housing and land does not just happen to neighborhoods, at the direction of state actors who force policies or capitalists who seek economically generative uses. Rather, empirical studies show how community organizations and elite actors within neighborhoods influence the extent to which marginalized populations access resources necessary for both physical and socio-political integration (Castells, 1983; Fisher 1994; Hyra 2008; Pattillo 2007; Marwell, 2007; Sites 2003; Suttles, 1972). These studies, along with theories of political economy of place, lead to these research questions: How do actors within neighborhoods undergoing public housing reforms influence decisions about redevelopment, and for whose benefit?
Methods: This paper uses a vertical and comparative case study design to allow Chicago’s public housing reforms to be investigated at multiple scales including the urban municipal context and within three neighborhoods. The data sources employed include policy and financial documents, as well as 61 original interviews conducted between 2013-2014 with public officials, policy advocates, housing developers, and community organizations.
Results: A comparative case study investigation of three Chicago neighborhoods finds that community actors shaped the extent to which affordable housing and neighborhood amenities were developed for the benefit of more marginalized populations. Differences in the trajectories of development can be explained by how community representatives interpreted the most marketable use of land based on their conceptions of neighborhood contexts relative to the broader Chicago region. Community representatives contested mixed-income housing since it started to be associated with subsidized housing rather than with market-rate housing. Grocery stores, urban farms, tennis courts, arts centers, and other amenities began to be developed as land swaps led way to the creation of these non-housing related resources, which were publically framed as creating inclusivity among all residents.
My central argument based on these findings is that community representatives’ critiques against Chicago’s structural spatial inequality directly influenced their desire to organize against mixed-income housing. Rather, conceptions of how to transcend what they framed as the problems of concentrated poverty focused on altering market investment in urban areas through land redevelopment for non-housing purposes associated with exchange value. Lacking progressive strategies, most political action centered on physical development rather than social movement mobilization.
Implications: The results demonstrate the need for community organizations to discover approaches for revitalization reforms that facilitate more equitable benefits for low-income households living in and around mixed-income developments, while also not falling into normative interventions based on market-orientations for attracting economic development.