Guns, Jails And Violence: The Housing Connection

arial view of Cabrini Green housing development in Chicgo
Cabrini Green Housing Project photo by Jet Lowe is licensed under the public domain
Cabrini Green public housing complex in Chicago (top right): a refuge or a source of violence?

Gun violence is one of many failings associated with public housing. In his documentary, writer, producer and director Brian Schodorf challenges that notion.

The program focusses on Cabrini Green, a public housing project in Chicago, which has been demolished. The first part of the film develops the idea that housing is a key to understanding criminal activity and gun violence. It traces housing conditions for people of colour living in Chicago during the 20th century.

In the early part of the century, people of colour came to the city in large numbers for work, only to find that most neighbourhoods were off limits. They were crowded into neighbourhoods where the housing was in poor condition. By mid-century, urban renewal was a common remedy, which razed older buildings and replaced them with expressways and public housing projects.

Cabrini Green, hailed as a solution to poor quality housing, was home to 15,000 people. Gradually it was vilified in the media as the buildings became less safe, were poorly maintained and became sites of violence.

Starting in 1995, Cabrini Green was demolished. The final building came down in 2011. For the tenants who were forced to move out, most areas of the city were again off limits, much like the situation which faced groups of migrants earlier in the century.

The story of Cabrini Green is told through the eyes of people who lived and worked in public housing projects in Chicago. It allows viewers to understand the disconnection that public housing residents experienced when their homes were torn down. People were set adrift from their support networks at a time when industrial work was shifting away from the city. That opened up the opportunity for the illegal drug market to flourish. Guns and violence are part of that “package.”

The film also documents one program that helps young people complete their education and step away from gun violence. It marks one effort to restore hope and a sense of purpose and community connection for a people who lost those connections when their homes were destroyed.

The documentary provides a useful starting point for discussing the significance of stable, safe and affordable housing, especially as part of efforts to overturn gun violence. To view this documentary and an interview with Brian Schodorf, see WTTW: How the Failure of Public Housing Is Linked to Gun Violence in Chicago

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