African American Public Housing

Created by: Amanda Huber
Time Period: 20th Century, Civil Rights Movement
Topic: Community and Reform, Culture, Immigration, Poverty, Race and Ethnicity

Throughout the centuries, African Americans have always had to deal with oppression, racism, hate, and segregation. In the beginning of the 20th Century African Americans were still dealing with all the same issues, especially in the south. Many African Americans decided to flee up to the north and further west. . They were looking for a fresh start and better opportunities overall. However, many of the white people who lived in Chicago did not want African Americans coming into their neighborhoods and living near them. This forced African Americans to live in the poor parts of the city in inadequate housing. However, in the late 1930s things stated to look up for African Americans. In 1937, Chicago decided to start the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA). This authority was created to help create public housing projects in Chicago. Elizabeth Wood was the first person appointed and she was a huge advocate for African Americans.

The Chicago Housing Authority Logo

Elizabeth Wood’s pushed for the creation of the Ida B. Wells Homes, the first public housing project for African Americans. These homes were built in the predominantly black neighborhoods, but the 47 acre project pushed into some white neighborhoods as well. The Oakland neighborhood was a white neighborhood, and some of the acreage for the project was in this neighborhood. This caused a huge issue for the white families in this neighborhood. There was a federal policy at the time called the Neighborhood Composition Rule. This rule required people living in a public housing development to be the same race of the people in the area it is located in. So, since Oakland was mostly white families they started protesting against the Ida B. Wells Homes. They ended up losing, and the CHA continued on with the project. Many of the white families ended up leaving the neighborhood.

The Ida B. Wells Homes were going to consist of row-houses and high-rise apartment buildings. There were going to be roughly 800 row-houses and 860 apartments. The project was finished in 1940 and people were allowed to move in January of 1941. Elizabeth Wood’s and her team had a strict application and screening process for families that wanted to move into the Public Housing. They looked for 2 parent families who had jobs. It was very competitive, there were only 1,662 units available.

A section of the Ida B. Wells Homes in Chicago in the 1940s.

The Ida B. Wells Homes, along with future African American public housing all had running water, electricity, and bathrooms. The tenements African Americans were living in before public housing did not have any of these things.

The Ida B. Wells Homes helped fast track other African American Housing Projects in Chicago. In the 1950s and 1960s public housing was growing at a fast rate. The CHA started proposing many more public housing projects. The Cabrini-Green housing project was first built in 1942, and then an extension was added in 1958. In 1962, the William Green Homes were built on an adjacent lot from Cabrini-Green. In total these two housing projects provided roughly almost 5,000 more units for African American families to move into. Most of these buildings were high-rises because there was significant over-crowding in Chicago. There was simply not enough room to build a bunch of houses.

A overview look of the Cabrini-Green and William Green Public Housing in Chicago.


African American families moving into a part of the Ida. B Wells Homes.

The first African American public housing projects being built in the early 1940s, helped African Americans take a step forward in becoming apart of society and equal to whites. While there was still a lot more progress to be made for African Americans to be seen the same and equal to whites, this was a huge step towards that. The creation of public housing for African Americans gave them adequate places to live that had basic necessities like running water, and bathrooms, something the tenements they were living in prior did not have.



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