With the United States’ welfare state coming to rely on market-based policies, the notion of choice has come to the forefront of public housing policy. This study investigated choice within a Chicago public housing community slated for redevelopment. In theory, the utilization of the private market creates broader options, empowering citizens to exercise greater autonomy in major life decisions. The housing authority emphasized the choices available to tenants, including the choice to remain on-site during redevelopment. Yet relocatees reported experiencing pressure to relocate, through either explicit actions from housing authority officials or nuanced channels including steering and coercion tactics. The incongruence between the narratives presented by the housing authority and those presented by the public housing residents demonstrates that the distinction between “voluntary” and “involuntary” relocation is not always clear. We offer several areas for consideration moving forward, including substantive inclusion of residents in planning processes, development of a more effective incentive structure to reward public housing agencies for relocating residents into higher quality neighborhoods, and shifting the overall framing of subsidized housing residents from consumers to civic agents who hold the potential to shape the future directions of their communities.
Project: Inclusive Housing