Erected in 1950, Dearborn Homes was the first high-rise project completed by the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA). The development, built after World War II but just before a major postwar housing boom, is located on Chicago’s South Side in the predominately African American neighborhood of Bronzeville. Eight hundred units (with up to three bedrooms) were divided amongst twelve six-story and four nine-story brick buildings. The cross-shaped buildings are surrounded by green and playground spaces and give the appearance of being located within a park—a design that reflected the influence of Le Corbusier's modernist ideals. Dearborn Homes set a precedent for subsequent high-rise developments. Architects believed the cruciform plan of the buildings allowed increased sunlight and ventilation.
Dearborn Homes served as a mixed-income relocation site for residents who were displaced by CHA urban renewal projects. However, CHA decisions about site locations for redevelopment were severely hindered by white aldermen who opposed the prospect of integration. Thus, many slum clearance projects in Chicago were conducted in primarily Black areas. In 1945, the CHA board approved an area from 27th to 30th streets on the State Street corridor to be cleared for Dearborn Homes. Initially, the site was considered for war worker housing, but due to the city’s growing number of displaced Black residents, the CHA relocated those residents to Dearborn Homes, which meant the development had a largely Black population.
In 1970, the CHA formed the Local Advisory Council (LAC), in response to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) mandated resident participation. The LACs intended to improve social life and create unity within the development. Despite such initiatives, the overall condition of Dearborn Homes began to decline due to CHA mismanagement. The CHA relied largely on tenants' rent to cover annual expenses, but as Dearborn housed increasingly low-income tenants, the CHA raised insufficient revenue. This led to the overall deterioration of the buildings, including broken elevators and unlit stairways. Coupled with insufficient security presence and high youth rates, the development faced high rates of vandalism. Many Dearborn residents were unable to leave because of the limited housing options available to them.
As a result of the lack of maintenance and vandalism, Dearborn resident Alberta McCain formed the first-ever Resident Corporation Management (RCM). The tenant organization was established in 1989 after the CHA signed a management pact with the RCM. Unlike the Dearborn LAC, the pact ensured the RMC would gain dual management of the development after RMC members completed a one-year-long training program. After McCain’s death in 1990, Naomi McMiller took over the presidency, and the RMC received dual management of Dearborn Homes in 1995. The organization sought to create more stringent tenant screenings and prevent the further decline of the units. Most notably, the Dearborn RCM would partner with other RCMs, such as the one at Wentworth Gardens, to secure renovations not only for Dearborn, but also for other developments within the Bronzeville community.
Beginning in the 1990s, HUD enacted HOPE VI, a program aimed to redevelop public housing sites. Coupled with the CHA’s Plan for Transformation of Public Housing, implemented in 2000, nearly all high-rise public housing sites were demolished and replaced with low-rise, mixed-income developments. Before the sites were demolished, however, HUD conducted a viability test to determine the cost of a development’s potential renovation. For instance, if the price to renovate a site was lower than the cost of a housing voucher, the development would not be demolished. Dearborn passed the viability test and was instead slated for renovation.
This renovation began in 2007 and was split into five phases across a three-year period. By 2010, the development received a complete restoration of all sixteen buildings. Architect Henry Zimoch transformed the flat-roofed buildings with a Georgian-style renovation, adding limestone pediments topped by spheres at the peaks. Corner bricks were replaced with quoins, and the narrow entrance canopies were set on classically styled metal porches. The renovation also included the addition of doorbells, closet doors, air conditioning, and new plumbing, water, and heating systems. In total, the development was left with approximately 668 units, eliminating 132 of the original units. Although these renovations revitalized the atmosphere within the development, high rates of crime and violence remain significant issues.
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