The End Arrives for Chicago’s Cabrini Green

The last residents of Cabrini Green have left the infamous Chicago Housing Authority residential project, long a symbol of the failure of public housing in American cities.   Since the Chicago Housing Authority unveiled its “Plan for Transformation” in 2000, more than 1,700 families have been relocated from Cabrini Green to other housing.  Approximately 50 percent of Cabrini Green residents moved to homes that are close to the shuttered complex; the remainder are scattered.  “Are people better off?  That’s still an open question,” said D. Bradford Hunt, a Roosevelt University social science professor.  “Some people are worse off.  For some people, not much has changed.  And some people are better off.  The question is what percentage, and we don’t know that.”

Cabrini Green occupied 70 acres on Chicago’s Near North Side, bordered by Evergreen Avenue on the north, Sedgwick Street on the east, Chicago Avenue on the south, and Halsted Street on the west.  At its peak, Cabrini-Green was home to 15,000 people living primarily in mid- and high-rise apartments.  The initial buildings –  a series of rowhouses – were constructed in 1942; the remainder of the buildings were completed by 1962.  Over the years, the name “Cabrini Green” became emblematic of the problems associated with public housing in the United States.

Originally believed to be a safe place to house Chicago’s poor, the Cabrini Green concept was widely copied on a national basis.  Unfortunately, the development soon devolved into a place where children were shot or sexually assaulted on a fairly regular basis.  One of the most notorious cases was that of Dantrell Davis, a seven-year-old who was shot dead in 1992 while his mother walked him to school.  After a 1981 gang war resulted in the murder of 11 residents, then Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne and her husband moved to Cabrini Green for three weeks to highlight her efforts to stop crime in the complex.

Alther Harris, a 67-year-old woman who has lived at Cabrini Green for more than 30 years, expressed mixed feelings about leaving, noting it has been “very, very stressful.  You can’t clean up right, you can’t cook right, you can’t eat right because you know that day is coming.  It keeps a person’s mind confused not really knowing what’s coming next.”  Harris is moving to a three-bedroom public housing townhome not far from Cabrini Green.  Although she says it is too small for her family, she admits that she doesn’t have much choice.