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Experts Gather to Discuss Housing for Poor

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February 20, 2006 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel

CHICAGO --- Leading experts from academia, the private sector and government will gather in Chicago at Northwestern University School of Law Friday, March 3, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the filing of the Gautreaux case. The public housing desegregation litigation was filed in Chicago in 1966 and resulted in a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1976.

The experts will take a hard look at housing for poor people -- offering analyses about what has been learned about housing mobility and neighborhood revitalization as well as a mix of bold and pragmatic perspectives about what to do next.  

Representing a host of disciplines and experiences, experts from throughout the country will conclude the conference by coming together on stage at a round table discussion that will feature strong opinions that are sure to include references to the problems of relocating people made homeless by Hurricane Katrina.  

The experts, including Alexander Polikoff, the principal lawyer in the landmark Gautreaux public housing desegregation litigation, will explore policies and strategies related to the long lasting effects of racism on the ghettoization of African Americans, the Gautreaux program’s movement of poor people from the city into middle-class suburbs, and evolving revitalization efforts that have been changing the landscapes of the nation’s neighborhoods.

“Gautreaux at Forty: A Four-Decade Retrospective on Race, Class, Housing Mobility and Neighborhood Revitalization,” co-sponsored by the School of Law and Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research (IPR), will begin at 8:45 a.m. with an overview of the program by conference organizer Len Rubinowitz. A professor at Northwestern University School of Law, Rubinowitz co-authored a book with James Rosenbaum, a professor of education and social policy and IPR faculty fellow at Northwestern, on the impact of the Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority case.

“Four decades after the Gautreaux case began, the remedial processes remain active and influential in Chicago, with no end in sight,“ Rubinowitz says. “Thus, as the conference focuses on broader national issues related to housing poor people, it will commemorate  -- rather than celebrate -- a case that still needs to be litigated 40 years later.”

The Gautreaux program’s movement of mostly single mothers and their children from Chicago to better off suburbs has been studied extensively by researchers from Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research. Participating IPR researchers include Northwestern Professors Rosenbaum and Greg J. Duncan, who found that though the adjustment process of the Gautreaux families was far from easy, when children of those families grew up and left home, they moved to neighborhoods that were much safer and more affluent than the neighborhoods their parents left behind.

That is one of the lessons that influenced a bold plan for what to do next in housing poor people that will be proposed by Gautreaux lawyer Polikoff, the author of a new book titled “Waiting for Gautreaux: A Story of Segregation, Housing and the Black Ghetto.”

“Shortly after Katrina hit, David Brooks, the conservative columnist for The New York Times, pointed to Gautreaux as a model program for relocating people made homeless by the devastation,” said Rubinowitz. “And Katrina is likely to come up a number of times during the course of the conference.”

The conference also will feature “Dislocation,” a documentary that has aired on WTTW about the complications and the process of being displaced. For the documentary, filmmaker Sudhir Venkatesh, the director of Columbia University’s Center for Urban Research and Policy, followed the residents of the Robert Taylor Homes on Chicago’ South Side as they relocated to new neighborhoods.

For a full program of “Gautreaux at Forty: A Four-Decade Retrospective on Race, Class, Housing Mobility and Neighborhood Revitalization,” go to: http://www.law.northwestern.edu/faculty/conferences/research/gautreaux.html.

Topics: Campus Life