If you don’t know what this means, Google it or go to Urban Dictionary-better yet, skip Urban Dictionary-they probably have a much sinister definition.

Anyway, I wandered over to Powell’s on 57th street Monday and found a gem. I suppose it has been 20 years since I held a copy of Devereux Bowly Jr.’s “The Poorhouse: Subsidized Housing in Chicago, 1891-1976.

My first meeting with this out of print study was at the library at Northern Illinois University where I was studying (if that’s what you call it) Interior Architecture in the late 1990’s. I wish I noticed the subtle hint I should have switched to Urban Planning instead.

Anyway, the book combined my interests of Chicago History, South side history and housing issues that I began to notice as I got older. During my college years, the Lake Park Homes on the south lakefront were imploded live on television, kicking off the CHA’s Plan for Transformation. Bowly profiled the evolution of subsidized housing in the city from its beginnings as an interest of philanthropists to full involvement of local and Federal entities. Bowly also described in detail the successes and failures in housing efforts during this time.

Here is the problem: HOUSING IS STILL A PROBLEM!

We are still talking about and trying to solve housing issues in 2017. Since the book was published, it feels like things have gotten worse. Several industries have left Chicago altogether, the middle-class is shrinking more and more, a lack of political will to provide affordable housing and increased violence many experts attribute to the dismantling of organized street gangs-many of which claimed public housing as their territory.

It can be challenging to stay positive, but now it’s personal. My tenancy at a mid-century, market-rate development is being threatened due to accepting lower wages just to be employed after losing a job of almost ten years. I am now in the middle of a search for subsidized housing for myself. I know I am not the only one who has to consider a completely different lifestyle they were not prepared for, but it feels extremely isolating.

I wonder what the next eighty years hold for subsidized housing?


The Poorhouse: Subsidized Housing in Chicago, 1891-1976.

Devereux Bowly, Jr.

ISBN 0-8093-0831-2



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