Speakers, Exhibition Offer Views Of Public Housing In Chicago

Michael Gsovski

By Michael GsovskiThe Daily Northwestern

In the Rock Room of Norris University Center on Monday night, students walked between images of buildings being demolished, children riding tricycles in empty halls and a woman leaning against the doorway of her spartan apartment.

“I’m aware of what’s going on with public housing in Chicago, so it wasn’t that surprising,” said Communication sophomore Ian Epstein. “But it’s different to see it in photographs like that.”

This photography exhibit of the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago, by former Medill graduate student Jack Bridges, kicked off this quarter’s Undergraduate Lecture Series on Poverty, Racism and Inequality.

The lecture series was founded in 2002 and produces events every quarter on a different topic about inequality. This week’s events are dedicated to analyzing public housing.

SESP junior and ULS co-chair Margaret Djekovic said recent events in Chicago make the topic of the series essential.

“Public housing and the projects have been deteriorating over time, and the CHA (Chicago Housing Authority) decided it would be more cost effective to demolish all the projects instead of repairing all of them,” Djekovic said. “But there’s a bunch of issues that go along with tearing down housing without having enough housing units available for everyone to live in.”

The series’ keynote discussion will take place at 8 p.m. tomorrow in Swift Hall. Alexander Polikoff, an attorney who won a 1976 Supreme Court victory in the case Hills v. Gautreaux, will speak on housing inequality.

In the case, the court ruled that Chicago housing projects violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act and awarded a number of families living in the projects vouchers to move to the suburbs.

Polikoff’s book, “Waiting for Gautreaux,” was published last year by Northwestern University Press and details his experience with public housing. Polikoff has been instrumental in the fight for housing equality, Djekovic said.

“He continues to work as a lawyer, and he still advocates for residents’ rights,” Djekovic said. “It’s pretty amazing because he has about 40 years of experience in researching this area. It will be really great to get all his information out there.”

The lecture series extends into Thursday with a three-person panel discussion on the recent changes in Chicago public housing. The panel will include a former resident of the Robert Taylor Homes and current author, an official from a battered women’s shelter and an NU doctoral student who has researched the history of public housing. The event will be held at 8 p.m. in the McCormick Tribune Center.

For the week’s final event, students will have the chance to visit the Ida B. Wells projects and the former site of the Robert Taylor Homes on a bus tour led by a former Taylor Homes resident.

Djekovic said she hopes people will take advantage of seeing a different side of the city.

“I think it’d be a great chance for people who live far north of Chicago to see what’s going on all over,” Djekovic said. “Hopefully everyone will learn something. I’m sure I’ll learn something, too.”

Michael Gsovski can be reached at [email protected]