The Jane Addams Homes, run by the Chicago Housing Authority, was one of the first three public housing projects in Chicago.
It was made up of 32 buildings and 987 units, built in 1938 by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Public Works Administration as part of the New Deal.
The buildings have largely been demolished. The one remaining building at 1322-24 West Taylor Street is being incorporated into plans for a new National Public Housing Museum as part of the International Sites of Conscience.
Lisa Yun Lee is the Executive Director of the Museum. Sunny Fischer is board chair.
Look her up.
Like so much of Chicago’s radical history, many folks – even young activists – know little of Addams whose work with immigrants and the poor took place not far from where the new Museum will be located.
In those days, the area around Halsted Street and Roosevelt Road was the home of thousands of immigrant poor. Addams spent her life working to improve their lives as well as opposing war and political repression.
Like Mother Jones who organized among southern Illinois coal miners, Addams was a labeled by the government as a dangerous woman for the work she among Chicago’s poor and for her radical ideas.
Much of the neighborhood was destroyed by the first Mayor Daley to build the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Just south of the University was where ABLA Public Housing once stood. They have also been destroyed, replaced by empty land and market rate housing.
You don’t hear the words public housing anymore. While the current candidates for Chicago mayor will discuss affordable housing, Sunny and Lisa point out that those two are not the same thing.
In fact you don’t hear the word public anymore. Not in an aspirational sense at least.
The notion that there is a collective responsibility that we have for our people has been in retreat.
These days those ideas are condemned as socialist
“Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. … Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country,” the president said in his State of the Union address.
Of course, providing public housing for working and poor people does not define socialism. Not unless living in a tent on the side of the Dan Ryan Expressway defines capitalism.
Or maybe it does.
We were glad to hear from Lisa and Sunny that there will be a Public Housing Museum.
Of course actual public housing that is connected to real work, school, play and human services in a city like Chicago would go even better with the museum.