Brief #9 - Unexpected Challenges: Youth, Public Housing Reform and Mixed-Income Development

Youth in Mixed-Income Communities

Mixed-income development has been embraced by policymakers across the United States as a response to urban poverty and the problems of traditional public housing. Several of the theories that drive the rationale for mixed-income development are directly concerned with children and youth. Relocation to mixed-income communities is meant to have a beneficial effect on young people by removing them from negative influences, providing a safer and healthier environment, and better connecting them to positive social contexts and resources from which they were isolated in public housing. Neighborhood influence is difficult to untangle, however, and it requires focusing not just on the ways in which neighborhoods may affect youth, but also on the ways in which young people shape and have an impact on their local environments.

In this brief, we explore the role of and responses to youth in three mixed-income communities in Chicago—Oakwood Shores, Park Boulevard, and Westhaven Park—built on the footprint of large public housing complexes as part of the Chicago Housing Authority’s (CHA) Plan for Transformation. We draw on the perspectives of residents and development professionals expressed in interviews, focus groups, and through field observation, although we were not able to speak with youth directly. We examine both expectations about youth in mixed-income developments and perceptions of how young people contribute to social dynamics and interaction in these contexts. We also explore the nature of their engagement in community organizations and activities and their role in shaping community concerns about and responses to crime, safety, and social control. We find that there have been improvements in the lives of young people who have been able to move into these new developments in terms of living in safer, more orderly communities. However, their overall experiences are not altogether positive for them and are proving to be problematic for the broader community.

Read the brief here (PDF).

This brief is based on a longer paper, “Youth in mixed-income communities replacing public housing complexes: Context, dynamics, and response.” (Chaskin, Sichling and Joseph, 2013, Cities 35: 423-431).