The Robert Taylor Homes: Failure of Public Housing

Written by on June 4, 2013 in Urban Fringe - 39 Comments

Growing up in the Chicagoland area, I was constantly told to avoid the area surrounding the Robert Taylor Homes. It was not a recommendation, but rather a command from my parents, repeated numerous times throughout my childhood. I never really questioned their reasons until this semester when I took a course on international housing in the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley. I decided to do some research.

The Robert Taylor Homes, located on the South Side of Chicago, are widely considered the greatest public housing complex in the world—and one of the greatest historical public housing project failures. City planners and historians pinpoint limited eligibility, racist intentions, and overreaching modernist design for the poor outcomes. However, after looking into the project in more detail, I think it is equally essential to consider the placement of these projects in deserted areas as well as their lack of state-sponsored maintenance.

A photograph of the Robert Taylor Homes, taken in the early 1960s, Source: http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/robert-taylor-homes-opens.

By the mid-1900s, nearly seventy-five percent of Chicago’s African American citizens resided in a series of neighborhoods on the South Side referred to as the “Black Belt.” The overwhelming majority of homes in the Black Belt were decrepit and nearly uninhabitable, and segregated economically, with the poorest African Americans residing on the northern tip, and their wealthier counterparts living on the southern end. Most strikingly, the Black Belt’s infant mortality rate was sixteen percent greater than anywhere else in Chicago between 1940 and 1960.

In 1946, the Chicago Housing Authority finally acknowledged the substandard living conditions of Black Belt ghetto residents and proposed the development of public housing in regions with lower populations within Chicago.

Although African Americans anticipated an improvement in their living conditions with the creation of public housing projects such as the Robert Taylor Homes in 1961, they were sadly mistaken. For this reason, I believe that the projects did more harm than good. The twenty-eight buildings were colossal and gloomy, reaching over fifteen stories each, with perpetually broken elevators. According to the Affordable Housing Institute, overcrowding was unavoidable, as over 27,000 individuals crammed into a space designed for no more than 11,000. Nearby streets were covered in litter, and the neighborhood lacked any semblance of banks, libraries, or even grocery stores; residents were thus unable to attain public services or purchase basic food staples.

Young children at play in the abandoned hallways of the Robert Taylor Homes in 2003, Photo by Jack Bridges.

Due to an “obsession with cutting cost,” the city of Chicago and state of Illinois lacked the requisite budget to keep the buildings in good condition, and they deteriorated drastically after only several years of existence as crime continued to dominate.Furthermore, it is somewhat troubling to learn that approximately ninety-five percent of Robert Taylor’s 27,000 tenants were unemployed, and drug deals worth nearly $45,000 took place each day. These numbers truly reveal the devastating conditions surrounding this massive, modernist housing project for low-income Chicago residents.

The Chicago Housing Association’s sanguine, post-war perspective on public housing simply resulted in a perpetuation of the already catastrophic subsidized housing on Chicago’s South Side. It is important to ponder the role public administrators played in establishing the budget for construction of the homes as well as their annual maintenance. I believe that until the demise of the Robert Taylor Homes, many city planners failed to recognize the association between proper facility maintenance and their external safety, such as low crime rates, as contrasted with the internal safety of the structures themselves.

Ultimately, I believe that public housing projects are described to young children from certain socioeconomic classes and ethnicities, like myself, with a negative connotation that most of us do not even think to challenge. The dismissive reputations of affordable housing ingrained in many children by their parents, whether intentionally or not, can tremendously shape our outlook on these federal actions as adults. Fortunately for those individuals like myself able to receive an unbiased, critical education, these perceptions are able to be shattered and we can see projects such as the Robert Taylor Homes for what they are: tremendous public housing failures that resulted from pairing lofty ambitions with insufficient funds.

Ariel Prince is an undergraduate student in Political Science at UC Berkeley. She focuses her studies on the intersection between government legislation and the overall well-being of citizens in the United States, and has spent significant time examining housing and financial policies following World War II. She can be reached at arielprince@berkeley.edu

  • Kevin Cooper

    Interesting perspective of Robert Taylor Homes.

    You pointed out several interesting stats out like 95% of RTH were unemployed. What do you think contributed to such a high number? You mentioned the value of daily drug deals on-site in the same sentence as the unemployment stat. Does that mean you think these stats are related? I do not think that is exactly the case.

    I would bet that the City Planners of the day were 100% aware of the relationship between proper facility condition and external safety. Sometimes you can be completely aware of something and do not have the power to change it. For instance, you are aware homelessness exists – can you end homelessness? For adequate maintenance dollars to be invested into RTH – it had to be a group effort – the public, politicians planners, housing administrators all have to be on the same-page to commit a financial commitment. That was obliviously not the case for RTH from your description of the end result.

    Your unbiased – critical education has shattered your negative connotation of RTH, but you still believe RTH is a tremendous public housing failure. I think what RTH stood for – housing for all – was noble, but the execution of this housing development is another tragic example of a positive transformative project falling through the cracks because of a lack of financial commitment.

    Great job on the article. I am definitely interested to see where your studies take you.

    I will be visiting Chicago for the first time this October and I am hoping to see the site of RTH and some of the Black Belt. I am a Urban and Regional Planning Student from Toronto and I am very passionate about all things housing. :)

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  • Jason Rayford

    i have visited the robert taylor homes in 1991 and it was very much depressing

  • Jason Rayford

    the disapointmet of the people the cha

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  • Kenya T.

    It is no coincidence that Martin Luther King chose Chicago as the lynchpin of his Poor Peoples Campaign and plan to spread the movement to northern cities. After the second migration, Chicago was faced with having many undereducated and untrained blacks fleeing from Mississippi and other southern states that oppressed blacks. However there weren’t enough jobs and housing for these people who weren’t even wanted where they fled from let alone in Chicago. I don’t believe these high rise homes were ever given long term thought. It would have certainly been an easier task to maintain the buildings than to try to solve the problem once it was impossible to manage on any level. The attitude of Daley was to let the monkeys kill eachother. Like every other urban decay in American cities the attitude was and still is to let it take care of itself unless tourist dollars and high end taxpayers are affected. It is not a naive reason why the projects of America are full of all the undesirable people. They are only destroyed when gentrification becomes an option….

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  • assman35

    So basically after witnessing a massive public policy failure your conclusion is that we need more government. Predictable.

  • 5DmarkIII

    The saddest sight I ever saw was driving north on I94 and seeing what looked like mile after mile of bleak skyscrapers. This was in August 1996. I learned later that by that point the complex was mostly empty and demolition had started soon after.

    I know they had the best intentions (supposedly), but whoever thought this place was a good idea were out of their goddamn minds.

    • plateshutoverlock .

      The buildings were huge, ugly, isolated from most city services and the complex itself is gigantic and meanacing in it’s size alone. Plus they caged up the balconies because people were being thrown off of them, making the place feel like a prison. In other words, this complex was a mega-fail.

  • Angela

    Tell me, how is no business in the area, and no jobs for the people a failure of the government? When a bunch of white people move into an area, they create jobs, and employ others. When a bunch of blacks move into an area, not only do they rarely create a single job, but they create white flight. If there are no banks in the area now infested with crime and arson, do you wonder why? Who are killing all those babies too BTW? With all the welfare checks going for drugs, smoking and alcohol the mothers are not only unhealthy when they are having these babies, generally out of wedlock, and very young, but they are unable to or unwilling to take care of thm. This is just typical behavior of the poor all over Africa too. Infact, without significant white genes, like in North and west Africa, the Africans have an IQ of 70, which we deem retarded in white civilization. The sad fact is, you can’t get a job that isn’t a stupid job, and a low wage even unless you have at least an 85 IQ. That only comes with being a mixed race Black. So when you see the high black on black crime in the ghetto, it is generally the stupid and unemployed ones killing or beating up the smarter mixed Uncle Toms. This is sad. I heard that right after a 5 year old kid refused to steal candy with some other kids, they were tossed off the roof of this housing project. That is how the gang mentality of blacks works. Watch out if they are crossed or snitched on! That is why the people were always warned to stay away from the ghetto. . .the people there are cruel and only out for themselves. Come to find out that is due to low empathy from low Oxitocin of their whole race. Add to that the high testosterone their race has, causing low impulse control, rage and passion, you have a volitile combination that results in high crime, and inability to get a job or keep it. Even retarded whites can be useful parts of society, as they are team players and not violent, but pure black people act ghetto wherever they are in the world, and it is simply in their blood. Excusing their neighborhoods as anyone’s fault but theirs is sheer idiocy. I mean like, why is the litter all over the area? Why is there no such thing as a family? Why does no one even try to start little home businesses like doing hair, or shopping or massaging or the like? Lazy, entitled, stupid and violent blacks expect the government to support them, and yet aren’t even doing work in return. Slavery was a fair trade IMO, as they can do nothing else when they have a low IQ. . .the mixed blacks belong in a category all their own though. (Bi-racial.) With a mix you never know what parent they will take after, just as when you breed a purebred poodle with a purebred bulldog. Dark color is dominant, but high IQ also seems to often be. . .and thus you get the dark and intelligent Nigerians for instance. People need to know more about the pure breeding stock in order to understand racial differences. (Rednecks being in highly mixed areas according to DNA sites.) When they do it will show us all, we are not even close to the same, and race is far from a social construct, it stems from two species: Neanderthal and homo erectus. Rant over.

    • harvey2654

      You can’t be serious, right?

      • Angela

        I’m dead serious. I am a researcher and blogger on race and it’s been my passion for 5 years now.

        • Shane Carmen Dietz

          No sweetie you are not some privileged little white girl with a college education or a blogger.. YOU ARE A RACIST. plain and simple …how dare you make the statements you made about African Americans? White genes make African Americans better..smarter? I never got a grade below an A or a B in college or grad school…and all my relatives are black…not white…and anyway its been scientifically proven that the first humans were Ethiopian Africans…in otherwords they were black. You are pitifully deceived if you think what you are doing is research or blogging. You are only trying to find evidence to support your horribly racist attitudes and you need to pray to God to deliver you from racism but if you are this loathing and envious of black people there is no way that you could possibly believe in God…your soul is in the balance.. You need spiritual help miss..I really feel sorry for you…you remind me of Saul…a devout Jew who killed Christians for the government. He thought he was doing God a service until he had an encounter with Jesus who asked him “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” I ask you the same question Angela…why do you persecute the LordJesus – because your persecution of His people is really persecution of him. You are a racist masquerading as a researcher and anyone who follows you racist ranting in your blog is a racist too. I have a Masters degree and my email address is ineedakidney12 @gmail.com if you would like to reply to me personally. I hope you do.

          • Curts Jackson

            Hey shane I made the mistake of getting into a retort with the idiot named Angela she so full of sh and tired that it took me several paragraphs to literally see that you are entirely right she is a racist idiot not worthy of any response from anyone. Every time she responds she goes into a rant about the percentage of white blood in the blacks that paved the way for equality in history and of course in her dim and demented eyes white people are angels from heaven and auspicious what a sad joke, I also figure that many elected officials and whites in power most likely share her sentiments and I am sure along the same lines of rhetoric as Angela. Oh I wish I knew who she actually is and I bet she is a teacher.college Professor or God forbid a judge or someone in power .
            I get her protected position like that of delusional and foolish whites that join Alice in wonderland to comfort their conscience and quench their guilt but in their hearts they know the truth. I am officially done with that purposely ignorant woman and I hope others on here follows suit she obviously lives for this crap.

          • groovamos

            Shane I just retired from a career doing board level hardware design/ system analysis with two degrees in electrical engineering. I had a lucrative career doing this with degrees from Vanderbilt and UT Austin. Over my entire career I NEVER ONCE met or saw a black person doing this kind of work and I met or saw hundreds of engineers on the job, at seminars given by chip manufacturers, and meetings with sale representatives. All of the engineers doing this kind of work are Asian or white. Angela is just doing what I do, she observes. But apparently she makes a hobby of studying it. Smashing your head against the wall with your angry tirade against what she sees is not doing you any good and your opinion does not make her evil. My college career started in 1968 which was the end of the civil rights movement, and 47 years later I’ve seen zero evidence of blacks moving into the highest levels of technical/mathematical expertise. Political correctness does not make you correct. If you want to call me a horrible racist then you will have to explain to yourself why I give Asians equal credit for achievement in my field.

    • Tameeka Suchaladiijones Jones

      @ angela ……you are a NIGGER since you so intelligent you know what that means right ?IT DOESNT HAVE TO BE ON OF AFRICAN RACE ITS SIMPLY SOMEONE WHO IS PLAIN OLE IGNORANT …SECONDLY ROBERT TAYLOR WAS MY HOME FOR MOST OF MY EARLY CHILD HOOD.HAVE YOU EVER BEEN THERE BEFORE LET ALONE STEP FOOT IN THERE!?NOT EVERY ONE WAS CRACKHEADS AND DRUNkS MY MOTHER WORKED TWELVE HOUR SHIFTS(MANY OTHERS WHERE EMPLOYED AS WELL)NO IT WASNT THE BEST LIVING CONDITIONS. BUT I TELL YOU I HAD SOME OF THE BEST TIMES OF MY LIFE AND CREATED SOME OF THE FONDEST MEMORIES THERE FOR YOUR INFO NE AND MOST OF MY PEERS FROM. THERE TURNED OUT TO BE SOME OF THE MOST PRODUCTIVE MEMBERS OF SOCIETY. IAM GETTING. ON YOU SPECIFGICALLY BECAUSE YOUR SPEAKIN ON SOMTHING YOU KNOW NONTHING ABOUT ALL YOUR WEAK SUPPORTING EVIDENCE YOU HAVE TO VALIDATE YOUR POINT IS FOOLISH DRUGS IS NOT JUST A BLACK POOR THING AND WELFARE ….STATISTICALLY SPEAKING(FACTS)MORE WHITES ARE ON IT THAN BLACKS AND YOU WANT TO MENTION THE DEATH OF A FIVE YEAR OLD OVER CANDY YOUR BREEDS OFFSPRING SHOOTING UP WHOLE SCHOOLS CAUSE. LITTLE BILLYS MOM TOLD HIM HE COULDNT HAVE A TOY YOU NEED A REALITY CHECK ….I DONT KNOW WHAT TIME YOU ARE STUCK IN IAM TRYING TO REFRAIN FROM USING A COUPLE OF CHOICE. WORDS BUT WHY PROVE YOUR THEORY RIGHT ON HOW UNINTELLIGENT BLACKS CAN BE AND TO CALL US LAZY. …LETS REVISIT SLAVERY …..WHO WORKED THE CROPS AND HARVESTED THEM WHO NURSED YOU ALLS LITTLE PALE FACED BABIES STRAIGHT FROM OUR OWN BREAST WHO KEPT THE LAND UP YOU ARE A DEGENERATE AND A WASTE OF TIME….AND WE ARE DIFFERENT.?LET HISTORY WENT DOWN THE OPPOSITE WAY AND WE CAME AND SNATCHED YOU ALL FROM YOUR WAY OF LIFE AND ALL YOU KNEW AND TAUGHT YOU TO HATE YOURSELF AND TO MENTALLY FUCK.YOUR SELF AND PAST IT DOWN GENERATION TO GENERATION ….YOU COULDNT WALK A DAY IN ONE OF OUR SHOES CAUSE YOU ARE TOO WEAK!

      • Angela

        I am fully aware some good came out of those housing projects. . .a white mayor admitted he came from there, and no doubt some blacks actually did get jobs. Maybe there were some mixed ones in the crowd. The potential of a pure black -as found in Africa, and parts of America (mainly in the South)- with an average IQ of 70, is not at all promising though. You won’t be able to get a job unless your IQ is about 85, which is only found in mixed blacks. So if you want to defend the projects because they weren’t too bad for drugs, I get it. Sure whites do some drugs, healthy ones mostly. They also drink wine more.Both of these are smart and affordable behavior for them. Blacks spend money they don’t have on idiot things, all the time! Even the mixed ones doing fine buy the nicest cars, and all namebrand and flashy clothes to try to outdo eachother. Like monkeys trying to push to the top and prove they are more dominant, they show off in everything they do. This is due to their high level of testosterone. This makes them seek for dominance and be more aggressive and crime prone. If we needed more evidence for why their areas turn to crime ghettos, their Oxytocin is also low. That is the hormone for bonding and trust, and without normal levels of it, government and civil behavior is impossible. The racial differences in the brain alone, much less the glands, bones, muscles, etc. are abundantly obvious that blacks came from a different species, and still show their primitive roots. (Homo erectus.) While whites are from the Neanderthal, who originated the big brain, and intelligence, proven by genetics now. Pure SubSaharan blacks have no white and no Neanderthal in them, thus no gene for intelligence. Their small brain, small head and low IQ matches what the homo erectus was. . .they are basically another species still!

        • nophables

          This is the most asinine pile of horse shit I’ve read in a long time… outside of religious dogma that is.

          • Angela

            That is what is called an ad hominem attack, with not a shred of evidence to debate what I said. If you have something to say, make it intelligent, or shut up.

          • Curts Jackson

            Oh I get it Angela living an experience in your educationally filled brain doesnt equal to the vast superior levels of degrees that you obviously managed to obtain. So with that being said I also know you and others like you will hide behind intellect to cover the lingering effects of racism and all that goes with it.
            Subsequently I wanted to personally tell you that you are not worthy of an explanation of anything in the black experience much less an additional conversation concerning it.

            Angela I deal with Whites like yourself who live everyday life with their head crammed to the top of their asses convenient when you are white and rarely face reality. I dont have that choice therefore this and your statements of fact can go straight to hell.

          • Angela

            You are obviously defensive and black, and I understand your perspective, as I hear it every day, and use to fall for it too. I come from a family who were very empathetic to the plight of the Africans, or minorities in general. My Grandparents spent 35 years helping Liberia get set up as a free state, and being missionaries to your people. He was looked on as a god in numerous countries in Africa, but especially Africa. My mother was born and raised in Africa, and still helps fund an orphanage founded in my Grandmothers name. I was set to take the place of my Grandparents in Africa, until I got an education about religion, and then race. . .

            You have dealt with no whites like me, because I am not aware of a single one like me out there. I have great empathy and pity for all animals, and blacks fit that bill when pure. The fact is, if you have an IQ over 54, are taller than a pygmy, or are in America or Europe and are not obese, you are a large part European genes. . .but probably don’t even know it.

            I have done much research on genetics, and all those “beautiful african traits” like being thin, tall, high cheekbones, long hair, etc. are all from white admixture anciently. Yes, it may be called Neanderthal, Hebrew, middle eastern, North African, Berber, etc. but it is still white. Sorry.

          • Curts Jackson

            With that said Angela those of us that are black and proud are not going to come from your specific utopia of the history you mentioned. I dont appreciate being called an animal as if that equates your term for non whites and or minorities. So It also proves my point whites that want the elitism that comes from your projected place in society its not surprising and actually expected sad but true.
            Angela its sad that you dont really share the in depth care and concern that your grandparents I am sure hoped to have passed down its ashamed. My suggestion is if the day ever comes and if you can take a long look in the mirror and see that you a hypocrite and so full of attempting at being superior that now YOU have become the problem. End of story.

          • Angela

            You are mixed black and proud of only what is white in you, I can guarantee! I have traced every trait blacks are proud of to their white source, generally the Neanderthal. You may have no clue you are a mix, but I could tell you all the white traits you blacks select for and you would see that you are not pure.

            My point is, whether or not a white thinks they are superior to another race, which of course we are all wired to think of our family, team, etc. the fact is, if your team was chosen by the other side, time and time again as the best, you might start to believe the other team thought it, whether or not you did!

            Blacks select for not just white traits in Africa (and have consequently found very few if any pure Africans have survived) but whites all over the world. This is seen in black on white rape, compared to the white on black rape stats, as well as interracial dating stats and interracial marriage stats, which show heavy selection of whites by blacks, but rejection of blacks by whites.

            If anything, I am concerned that a pure black may not exist anymore, and your own people have selected out pure blacks as unfit for a white man’s world. If it is not true, why are 1 out of 4 black babies aborted? Why is black on black murder so high? I do feel bad for blacks, but most of that is for their ignorance of their history and genetics. Everything you believe about your history is wrong, Your kings and queens were all the first bi-racials, and they were the first ones to go into white civilizations and destroy them. We can now trace it to high testosterone levels that cause the violence, low oxytocin levels that cause the lack of civil empathy, and low IQ that cause a dumbing down of civilization. . .all of which are still seen in average black levels.(The exceptions are lucky mixes.)

          • Curts Jackson

            Angela next time you encounter racism which you wont ask any one black if when they were beaten killed and or discriminated if the white idiot that did it too them asked how much white blood was in their system.? Lets start and end there. GET A LIFE.

          • Angela

            Discrimination is called judgment, and it is a good thing for your safety to discriminate against those who are likely to be violent. This is proven to be tied to testosterone and lacking empathy with low Oxytocin. Blacks have both high aggression/testosterone levels, and low Oxytocin/trust, love, empathy. So if you hear a story from a perspective of a typical black person, it is likely a lie or presumption based on denying their own part in it. I have seen so many videos of altercations between whites and blacks, and they all go the same. The only exceptions are the professor type blacks who obviously show a high IQ, and are wealthy. They are generally treated as a white, but still likely shouldn’t be. The rich blacks often end up just as violent and unempathetic as the poor ones. Take Bill Cosby for instance. . .

          • groovamos

            Yes curtis easy for you to ignore the massacre of whites now isn’t it? More than twice as many whites are murdered by blacks than vice versa in the USA. Since there are 6x as many whites in the population, this calculates out statistically to a black man being 12 times more likely to kill me than a white man killing a black. So we are really not sympathetic to your bitching about racism, but we will bitch about the lack of progress of 1/2 the black population which is stuck in reverse for the last 30 years. And it seems to be a worldwide phenomenon, just look at black majority countries never to be developed.

          • Curts Jackson

            I could give less than a damn about your freaking sympathy and your obvious racist and stupid view of the world go figure.I cant speak for the majority but I know there are additional situations that make all of the deplorable conditions in the black community worse. most of them helped by stupid ass whites like you. So I ll end here and await the miracle when you pull your head out your ass.

          • groovamos

            Whites “live everyday life with their head crammed to the top of their asses” is quite the sentiment of an angry racist and I would be frankly adverse to being in your presence and would avoid hiring you. Not a very smart statement from you either since I don’t know if there is a top to an ass.

      • Curts Jackson

        Tameka you are wasting your time attempting to get through to this idiot she will take everything you say and use it to make her look like the intellect typical and tired and oh so damn white. She does the same thing with everyone that comes at her read all the responses etc.
        ” i used to me sensitive ” I this I that bullshit and of course she has studied and has stats to show this and that but cant explain why there is white trash and why whites who are so damn smart and professional yet have borrowed trillions from the Chinese government to continue to live on a cloud of fake credit and an empty ass economy? Further more if being white was the merit of character in any society and they have the freaking answer for life then why did they need 300 years of free servants to build their fucking society . I wish Angelas ass was here so I could spit right in her self righteous face dumb bitch. Shed probably like it to be honest.

  • Philo Kvetch

    There is a very interesting documentary available on Netflix on the Pruitt-Igoe project in St. Louis that recounts some of the same problems that existed in the RTH:

    http://dvd.netflix.com/Movie/The-Pruitt-Igoe-Myth/70197371?strkid=1146105093_0_0&strackid=57af99dd37abb94b_0_srl&trkid=222336

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