Professor D. Bradford Hunt, Associate Dean of the Evelyn T. Stone
College of Professional Studies and Associate Professor of Social Science and
Chair of the Department of Professional and Liberal Studies, has published a
new book entitled Blueprint for Disaster: The Unraveling of Chicago Public
Housing. Roosevelt Librarian Jennifer Lau-Bond recently interviewed Professor
Hunt about his newest publication.
Why did you want to write a book about public housing in Chicago?
I wanted to find the answers to a deceptively simple question – what went wrong with public housing? It was clear that something had gone terribly awry, and the answers written by others left me unsatisfied. Digging into the topic, I found surprising stories about past policy decisions, and these stories added to my desire to write a book. Finally, it had been over 25 years (1983) since someone had written a history of the Chicago Housing Authority, and it was time to assess its rise and fall.
Was there a moment when public housing in Chicago went wrong, or was it just doomed from the start?
Public housing in Chicago
Can you tell us about the types of research you needed to do for this project?
Some of the most important research was done at the Chicago Housing Authority’s archive, which is a collection of file cabinets stored in a poorly-lit warehouse on the far south side. (The warehouse was in terrible shape, and I had nightmares that it would burn down, turning all that valuable history into ash). I spent hours poring over files trying to understand the bureaucratic records and the voices, pressures, and policies behind them. But the material yielded new stories and new information that had not been previously discussed.
Beyond archival work, I also interviewed numerous people engaged in public housing work – everyone from current residents to former executive directors. The hard part of the topic is that the research phase could have been endless. I had to stop the research and start the writing – a problem that many students have as well!
In the book, you mention New York City's Housing Authority as an example of a “successful” housing program. Is this the only example of success? What other models exist for public housing projects that are sustainable while still accomplishing their goals?
New York is one of the few large public housing authorities in the U.S.
Instead of large-scale projects, we now know that a range of affordable housing options should be offered in every city. Some families simply need an income subsidy and are fine; the federal Housing Choice Voucher program works for them. Other groups, like single men, are often best served in new Single Residency Occupancy developments. And some need what we call “Supportive Housing,” especially for families suffering from severe problems like addiction and mental illness. Supportive Housing is often subsidized by government but managed by non-profit social service agencies who have the knowledge to help those most in need.
What were the best and worst parts of the writing/publishing experience?
Just as in any student research paper, I had to make sure that each paragraph was focused on moving the story forward. There was no room for “fluff” in this book, and the editors made sure that I “drove a narrative” in my writing. Fortunately, I had a lot of help not only from my editors but from many volunteer readers of the manuscript, including my Mother, a former English teacher. She’s my secret weapon! Thanks Mom!
- To purchase a copy of the book, click here.
- To locate a copy of the book in the RU Library, click here.
- To read a review of the book from the August 15, 2009 Chicago Tribune, click here (requires authentication with RU Library borrower ID).
- To read an article about the book and Chicago Public Housing from the Chicago Reader, click here.