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A Major Chicago Public-Housing Lawsuit Is Wrapping Up. The Segregation It Fought Against Lives on.

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Over 50 years after the “Gautreaux” case began, the city’s neighborhoods remain divided along racial lines.

Last month, after more than five decades of litigation, the nation’s first major public-housing desegregation lawsuit, Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority, reached its final settlement. Forty-three years after the Supreme Court determined that the CHA had engaged in systemic racial discrimination in its housing policy, a federal judge has ruled the Authority will be relieved of its court-ordered duty to “offset the impacts of racial segregation,” as long as, for the next five years, it continues to develop mixed-income housing, strengthen its voucher program, and create several early childhood development programs at existing public-housing developments.

But with rising housing costs continuing to cause massive displacement of Chicago‘s black population, questions remain about the CHA’s decades-old solutions to the problem of housing segregation. As the landmark case comes to a close—and with it, one of the last vestiges of the United States’ brief experiment with large-scale public housing—it’s clear that the remedies to the problem of housing segregation that followed from the case never effectively took hold.

The Gautreaux case began in 1966, the year Martin Luther King moved into a North Lawndale tenement to help lead the Chicago Freedom Movement and demanded an end to housing discrimination in the city. Over the previous decade, the CHA had been on a segregationist building spree, erecting high-rises in the city’s predominately black outer reaches, as far from white neighborhoods as possible. Helmed by activist and Altgeld Garden Homes resident Dorothy Gautreaux, a group of public-housing residents charged that the CHA and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had violated the Fourteenth Amendment by concentrating over 10,000 public-housing units in isolated black neighborhoods. A federal judge agreed three years later, and, in 1976, the Supreme Court did too.

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