PI Original Friday April 15th, 2011, 2:29pm

Demographics Of Public Housing Families Evolve

The makeup of Chicago's public housing households is evolving as more optimistic evidence of their socioeconomic well-being was noted in a report by the Chicago Housing Authority on the progress of the sometimes controversial Plan for Transformation.

The makeup of Chicago's public housing households is evolving as a new study shows more optimistic evidence of their socioeconomic well-being. A report released by the Chicago Housing Authority highlights progress made in the 12 years since the agency instituted its sometimes controversial Plan for Transformaiton.

The goal of the program was to overhaul the troubled public housing system, resulting in the demolition of some of the most notoriously violent buildings and high-rises. The hope was that as mixed-income communities are ushered in and poverty is de-concentrated, the city would strengthen.

The new CHA report (PDF) set out to dispel myths about the plan, primarily the 16,500 families in 1999 who were guaranteed the right to return to public housing. For starters, the belief that former residents were migrating to the suburbs proved false as only 60 families relocated there, while 11 went out of the state. Of the 60, the highest number (12) went to south suburban Riverdale.

Most of those relocated moved within the city and many went to high-poverty neighborhoods, similar to those they left behind. Some 35 percent of them did use vouchers to move to areas where poverty rates were below 23 percent, despite the city’s average poverty rate hovering at 20 percent. In all, the families spread out to land in 75 of the 77 community areas that make up the city.

As for the actual makeup of all households, the number of young children (age 15 and under) went from about 50 percent of the family population in 2000, to only 35 percent in 2010. Conversely, the number of seniors (age 50 and over) in non-senior specific family housing grew from 9 percent to 17 percent in the same 10-year period. The number of young adults (age 16 to 20) also grew from 10 to 17 percent, the report said. The gender of the heads of households remained about the same, with 88 percent female in 2000 to 89 percent in 2010.

The race of the heads of households also diversified. In 2000, 93 percent were black, 7 percent were white, and 1 percent were neither. Ten years later, 88 percent were black and 11 percent were white. The number of Hispanic household heads nearly doubled.

The report also touted the quality of life for the families by way of employment and income. The number of employed household heads of working age (18 to 61 years old) went from only 15 percent in 1999, to about 32.3 percent in 2005, climbing to 41.5 percent by the end of 2010. In looking at the original families from before the plan, the Illinois Department of Employment Security data showed the annual income of those household heads almost doubled from $10,160 in 1999 to $19,244 in 2009.

These optimistic numbers are partly due to a work requirement for the heads implemented in 2009, but the report also breaks down city programs used to get it to be this way. There was more individualized attention through case managers assigned a main goal of helping residents -- 89 percent of whom took advantage of the opportunities -- find jobs and keep working. There was the $27 million workforce development program Opportunity Chicago; the direct job placement and hiring program Section 3; transitional jobs, or time-limited subsidized jobs that included paid work and skill development like contextualized literacy programming and technical training; and a deal struck with the City Colleges of Chicago that allowed free access to all residents, including to the system’s continuing education and GED and degree programs.

Still, the report failed to discuss the problems the relocated families face, chief among them the slow pace of redevelopment at former public housing sites designated as mixed-income areas. As of late July 2009, just 36 percent -- 2,656 out of 7,303 -- of the public housing units the Chicago Housing Authority plans to build at 12 former CHA sites around the city were complete. And then there’s the fact unearthed by the Sun-Times that “a disturbing 2,202 families are unaccounted for. Under plan they had the right to return to CHA, but the agency has now lost track of them and has no idea where they are."

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