Completed in 1951, Loomis Courts was the third out of four public housing sites known as the ABLA Homes, located on Chicago’s Near West Side, one of the city’s most racially diverse neighborhoods in the 1950s. The two seven-story buildings housed a total of 126 families and were part of a group of eight public housing developments built for the explicit purpose of housing people displaced by the Chicago Housing Authority’s (CHA) urban renewal projects.
The courts were built in a gallery style, with the apartments, stairwells, and elevators connected through exterior hallways. The architects hoped that the galleries would become a recreation area for children as well as a place for neighbors to socialize. Each Loomis building comprised two wings arranged in an obtuse angle, with the elevators located at the intersection. The apartments were designed so that the kitchens and bathrooms faced the gallery, with each room featuring high windows for privacy, while the bedrooms and living rooms were located on the exterior and featured full-size windows.
Although the construction of Loomis Courts attempted to solve the issue of resident displacement from urban renewal projects on the Near West Side, the city’s projects still led to considerable resident displacement and a racial transition from white to nonwhite residents. The Near West Side urgently needed more housing units since existing nineteenth-century tenements were in severe disrepair. Moreover, racist downtown business interests saw the increasing African American population in the 1950s as a threat. As such, the demolition of the tenements was believed by politicians and white residents as vital, even when some buildings were suitable for conservation. Moreover, the Near West Side also underwent highway construction projects to connect the predominantly white suburbs to downtown, destroying local ties and forcing residents in the way of the highway out of the neighborhood. In the 1940s, white residents made up 80 percent of the neighborhood population and by the 1970s, they formed only 28 percent as many left the neighborhood for the suburbs. Conversely, Black residents became the majority racial group by the 1970s, making up 70 percent of the neighborhood.
Loomis Courts, like many other CHA sites, provided better quality housing than it replaced. However, its condition and that of the ABLA site as a whole started to decline in the 1970s due to CHA mismanagement and the larger economic context of deindustrialization. Jobs in steel mills and stockyards for African Americans, the largest racial group in the ABLA Homes, started disappearing from the city in the 1970s. Since CHA maintenance costs were covered by tenants’ income, the CHA struggled to maintain the buildings. Many CHA high-rises struggled with broken elevators and tenants complained that their maintenance requests would go unheard for months.
In an attempt to solve the issues that the ABLA Homes and other public housing sites faced, in 1999 the CHA launched the Plan for Transformation of Public Housing to demolish and redevelop existing sites into low-rise, mixed-income developments—a solution intended to encourage social mobility. In 2001 the CHA and a private management company redeveloped Loomis Courts into market-rate and low-income units. The low-income units were created using the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program, which provides tax incentives to developers to create affordable housing units. The rest of the ABLA Homes have been demolished except for one building of the Addams Homes and the low-rise Brooks buildings. In its place, the CHA and a private developer plan on building Roosevelt Square, a 2,400-unit mixed-income development. Overall, residents and policy experts have criticized the CHA Plan for Transformation’s effectiveness in fostering social mobility. The plan provides vouchers to subsidize rent costs in market-rate housing for former public housing residents. Yet in spite of the vouchers, many residents have still ended up in impoverished communities.
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“Low-Income Housing Tax Credits.” National Housing Law Project, August 16, 2021. https://www.nhlp.org/resource-center/low-income-housing-tax-credits/.
Moore, Natalie. “Why the Chicago Housing Authority Failed to Meet Its Mixed-Income Ambitions.” WBEZ, March 23, 2017. https://interactive.wbez.org/cha/.
Simpson, Cam. "Top CHA High-Rise Written Up: Housing Chief Decries Upkeep at ABLA Homes." Chicago Tribune, April 23, 2001.
Stamm, Everett, and Taylor LaJoie. “An Overview of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit.” Tax Foundation, August 11, 2020. https://taxfoundation.org/.