It’s only proper that on the same day I post a story about a sheik selling his $135 million mansion in Aspen that I make note of the other side of the “American dream”—the millions of Americans who live in public housing projects, a place where too many who enter soon abandon hope. This is a clip from a PBS documentary on life in the Ida Wells housing project in Chicago, which was built in 1941 and is scheduled for demolition in 2009.
We’ve learned in the past three decades that public housing projects are human warehouses that become breeding grounds for crime and myriad other social problems. What’s the solution? For a period, government experimented with vouchers that allowed low-income individuals to escape the projects and “mainstream” into other communities that had better schools, and that were away from the influences of the projects. Indeed, the city of Chicago is using vouchers to help some residents of Ida Wells relocate to other neighborhoods, as Catrin Einhorn reported on Chicago Public Radio last week. But the track record of those efforts appears mixed, perhaps because the value of the vouchers were so low that recipients often simply moved to other communities that weren’t much different than the projects—moving from a neighborhood that has 55% poverty to one with 45% poverty. Some poverty experts in Chicago think that’s been the case with some of the residents who left Ida Wells. I’d welcome enlightenment here from individuals who have followed this debate more closely than I have.