The Gautreaux Legacy


Gautreaux was the nation’s first public housing desegregation lawsuit


Two important results:

·          Changed the immediate context for the building of public housing in Chicago

·          Remedies introduced housing mobility, scattered housing and private management





1954-1967 CHA constructed more than 10,300 public housing units

·          Only 63 were built outside poor, racially segregated areas


In 1966, Dorothy Gautreaux, a community organizer and activist, and three other residents, under the guidance of ACLU lawyers, sued in federal court


Gautreaux et al.  v. CHA alleged that Public housing violated

·          Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibiting racial discrimination in federally funded activities, and

·          American Constitution’s equal protection guarantee



Important Gautreaux Cases


1969 Gautreaux et al.  v. CHA (Federal Judgment Order)

·          Prohibited CHA from constructing new public housing in areas of the city that were predominantly African-American unless they built as many in racially diverse areas (in response CHA stopped building and the waiting list grew to more than 40,000).

·          CHA could no longer build high-rises for families

·          CHA could not build dense concentrations of public housing in any neighborhood

·          (Dorothy Gautreaux died just seven months earlier.)


1976 Hills v. Gautreaux (Supreme Court Decision)

·          It was upheld that HUD was liable for CHA’s actions because HUD had funded CHA even though it was aware of CHA’s discriminatory practices.

·          HUD was required to provide remedies throughout the Chicago area


Court Ordered Remedies


“Scattered Site” public housing

Built on a small scale and dispersed in neighborhoods throughout the city. 

·          2,000 units in 57 diverse neighborhoods

·          Took twenty years and a private provider to get it done


Gautreaux Assisted Housing Program

Eligible families were given rent certificates, or “housing vouchers,” which they used to pay for private rental apartments in neighborhoods that were less than 30% African American.

·          1976-1998, 25,000+ moved to more than 100 communities throughout the Chicago metropolitan area.  Half to integrated suburbs, half to integrated city neighborhoods.

·          People were assigned, didn’t choose apartment


*The program was so popular that in 1984, on the one day families could enroll, so many showed up they had to cancel registrations because the police feared they couldn’t control the crowd.  By phone, more than 10,000 applicants called in one day.

-Alex Kotlowitz



Improvement in employment experience and prospects for children who moved improved dramatically

·          Children were more likely to graduate from high school,

·          attend college,

·          attend 4-year colleges,

·          to be employed and to have jobs with better pay and benefits

·          Families assigned to neighborhoods with more educated residents were much less likely to receive AFDC



Moving to Opportunity

Launched in 1994

            Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York


Experimental design of housing mobility,

Sought to answer the question: What are the impacts of neighborhood conditions on the employment, income, education, and social well-being of MTO families?


Applicants were randomly assigned to three groups

Experimental-Given housing vouchers for areas with poverty rates of 10% or less

            Comparison – Given Section 8 housing vouchers for any Chicago area

            Control – not given housing vouchers


Gautreaux used raced-based qualifications to decide eligible neighborhoods, MTO emphasizes poverty rate


Average applicant is an African-American woman, 37 years old, with 2 or 3 children, almost 1 in 5 works, and 2/3 receive AFDC


Families are motivated to participate by fear of crime

·          Nearly half of MTO applicants reported being the victims of crime

·          85% listed it as there primary or secondary reason for moving

·          They were also were motivated by better housing conditions and better schools



Beneficial influences on social behavior of boys, physical health of boys and girls and overall mental health of household heads

·          Less behavior problems among boys

·          Parents report they are less cruel

·          1/3 the arrest rate for teens

·          participants report a greater sense of safety and psychological well-being

·          fewer injuries and criminal victimizations among children

·          no clear, significant impact on economic self-sufficiency

·          positive, but limited, results



The Gautreaux Legacy


1.      An end to racial discrimination in public housing

·          CHA abandoned discriminatory tenant assignment plan

2.      An end to Public Housing high-rises

3.      An end to backroom political dealing

·          Alderman could no longer use veto power to prevent construction of public housing in their wards

4.      Mixed-Income Communities

·          Constructed low rise town homes for families with a broader mix of incomes

5.      Private Management for Public Housing

·          Private management for scatter site housing

6.      Expanded Housing opportunities for public housing families

·          25,000+ people moved to other neighborhoods, the first housing mobility program

·          Scattered site housing

·          Moving to Opportunity program (MTO)


 When Gautreaux ended, 50 such programs were in place around the country

            Gautreaux is still the largest mobility program


* Legacy of “deconcentration” has become a driving force behind current ghetto transformations

·          dispersing tenants and

·          creating mixed income developments


*supported a new concept-- the “geography of opportunity”

Some references:



Del Conte, A., & Kling, J. (2000 (?)). A Synthesis of MTO Resaerch on Self-Sufficiency, Safety and Health, and Behavior and Delinquency. JCPR Newsletter, 5(1).


Duncan, G. J., & Ludwig, J. (2000). Can Housing Vouchers Help Poor Children. Children's Roundatable, The Brookings Institution(3).


Popkin, S. J., Buron, L. F., Levy, D. K., & Cunningham, M. K. (2000). The Gautreaux Legacy:  What Might Mixed-Income and Dispersal Strategies Mean for the Poorest Public Housing Tenants? Housing Policy Debate, 11(4), 911-942.


Rubinowitz, L. S., & Rosenbaum, J. E. (2000). Crossing the Class and Color Lines: From Public Housing to White Suburbia. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.