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Tearing Down Chicago's Public Housing Helped Many Kids in Long Run: Study

By DNAinfo Staff | March 27, 2016 1:53pm | Updated on March 28, 2016 8:11am
 A crane is used in this file photo of a demolition of a building.
A crane is used in this file photo of a demolition of a building.
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shutterstock/file photo

CHICAGO — Demolition of some Chicago Housing Authority projects in the 1990s eventually helped many of the displaced children have better lives as adults, a new study finds.

The study, by Eric Chyn of the University of Michigan, and featured by the New York Times on Sunday, found that now-grown children displaced by the demolitions in the 1990s are more likely to be employed today compared to kids whose homes were not destroyed.

"Displaced children are 9 percent more likely to be employed and earn 16 percent more as adults," Chyn writes.

Looking at data from people whose CHA homes were demolished between 1995-98, he found that three years after demolition, displaced residents were living in neighborhoods with 25 percent less poverty and 23 percent less violent crime.

He notes previous research finds that a child's odds of success are reduced if they live in impoverished neighborhoods "where most adults are unemployed and peers engage in criminal activity."

Moving to less poor and less violent neighborhoods may have exposed the children to more affluent people who could provide better role models than those in the CHA developments, he said, as well as better schools.

The children's parents may have also had better access to jobs in the new neighborhoods. He also suggests living in housing that is less dense than many of the CHA projects were had its own benefits.

"Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that a child who moves out of public housing due to demolition has about $45,000 higher total lifetime earnings" and that the increased tax revenue produced by these adults exceeded the cost of giving their parents vouchers to move.

Chyn says that over the past 30 years the number of kids living in poor neighborhoods in the U.S. has grown 80 percent to 20 million.

Chyn reviews the history of the the CHA: built in the 1950s and 60s, many of the public housing developments were in poor shape by the late 1980s because of a number of factors, including city mismanagement and scandal. For example, some buildings in the Robert Taylor Homes in Bronzeville near Sox Park had to be evacuated after flooding that shut down heating systems.

Chyn's data was based on people who lived in 53 high rises in seven CHA projects but not the city's notorious Cabrini-Green and Henry Horner projects. He focused on children who were age 7 to 18 when the CHA buildings were demolished. The homes were demolished before the larger demolition-redevelop-rehabilitation CHA effort called Plan for Transformation which began in 2000.

"Relocation of low-income families from distressed public housing has substantial benefits for both children (of any age) and government expenditures," he concludes.

A 2013 report by the Washington-based Urban Institute that looked at CHA residents who were given vouchers to move found they were only "marginally better off" than when they lived in high rises.

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