Trumbull Park Homes were the last of the three low-rent housing developments in Chicago built through the Public Works Administration under the New Deal’s U.S Housing Act of 1937. The initiative behind this act was an effort to alleviate slum living conditions in Chicago by replacing overcrowded and impoverished neighborhoods with housing that provided better living conditions for the poor.
Trumbull Park Homes is located in the 10th ward in South Chicago, specifically in the South Deering community, a middle- and working-class neighborhood mostly consisting of single-family residences. South Deering was known as Irondale until the early 1900s, since it was home to Joseph H. Brown Iron and Steel Company and housed steelworkers around the area, which greatly increased the area’s economy. Trumbull Park Homes is close to the Chicago & Indiana Railroad and is within walking distance of a small park which had a swimming pool, tennis courts, and other recreational facilities.
The Public Works Administration, with John A. Holabird as chief architect, started developing Trumbull Park Homes in 1936 along with Addams Homes and Lathrop Homes. Reflecting the public housing preference of the time, Trumbull Park Homes featured 55 low-rise buildings, including row houses and three-story apartments. The $3.25 million project was predicted to house 466 families utilizing only 25 to 30 percent of the land for buildings, ensuring space for lawns, playgrounds, and common areas. Housing in Trumbull Park Homes was highly popular, and it was reported that applications for the housing project exceeded the amount of living units before construction was even completed.
The Public Works Administration imposed the “neighborhood composition rule” for all their housing developments, a racially motivated effort to prevent integration. It meant that the residents of the new public housing developments must align with the demographic composition of the surrounding neighborhood, i.e., only white families could live in public housing located in white neighborhoods. Trumbull Park Homes and Lathrop Homes were both located in white neighborhoods, and the Jane Addams Homes, located in the racially-mixed Near West Side, only allowed 10 percent Black residents. The community of South Deering was also committed to maintaining its demographic makeup. In the late 1940s, when a Black family was in the process of purchasing a house in the Merrionette Manor neighborhood in South Deering, the owner unexpectedly sold it to a white buyer. The Daily Calumet, a South Deering newspaper, reported that local groups had helped the owner find another buyer for the house to prevent the integration of the neighborhood.
When Betty and Donald Howard moved into Trumbull Park Homes in 1953, it marked the beginning of the development’s integration. This was accidental, however, since the CHA declared it did not know the Howards were Black, and it marked a period of almost three years of violence known as the Trumbull Park Riots. The community-led riots were in blatant opposition to any Black family living in South Deering. The South Deering Improvement Association (SDIA), the same group that prevented the Merrionette Manor property from being sold to a Black family, was also instrumental in maintaining and funding the Trumbull Park Riots. In the group’s newspaper, the South Deering Bulletin, editors encouraged tenants and community members to act to prevent integration. White residents engaged in stone and brick throwing, harassment through racial epithets and stalking, throwing sulfur candles into apartments, and bombing attempts. In October 1953, after much debate, the CHA reluctantly allowed ten more Black families to move into Trumbull Park, triggering more violence. It was reported in the Chicago Defender that from August 1, 1953 to June 30, 1954 one South Deering resident was arrested every 36 hours, and approximately 5 percent of the South Deering population was arrested at least once directly related to racially motivated attacks happening in the area. In that first year of the riots, damages to the Trumbull Park Homes were estimated to have cost the city about $2.5 million, and continued to require city investment in policing and repairs. Unsurprisingly, only those residences occupied by Black families were attacked.
Overtime, Trumbull Park Homes started to become more integrated, but this was not because of a fundamental change in ideals on the part of the South Deering community, rather as a result of a failed effort by the CHA to keep white families in the project. In 1966, the Dorothy Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority class-action lawsuit charged the CHA with discriminatory site selection for new public housing sites, building them only in all-Black neighborhoods. In 1969, the courts ordered that the CHA build new public housing sites equally in both majority Black and majority white neighborhoods. Additionally, the courts approved a CHA plan that set quotas in four housing projects located in white neighborhoods, including Trumbull Park Homes, which guaranteed that at least half of the project tenants would be white. This plan was introduced to make public housing more attractive to white applicants. Ultimately, this plan did not bring in more white tenants to the four developments; rather, as soon as integration of the projects happened, the project and the host neighborhood would quickly turn into a majority/minority area, which became the case for Trumbull Park Homes and South Deering. Over the next two decades South Deering experienced a dramatic change in demographics, from a 99 percent white population in 1960 to a 24 percent white population in 1990. By 2018, the HUD Secretary reported that Trumbull Park Homes was occupied by a 98 percent non-white population; residents are majority Black and Hispanic.
The 1970s and 1980s were marked by CHA mismanagement, deferred maintenance of the projects, and insufficient security across many public housing sites in Chicago. Poorly functioning elevators, leaky roofs, uncollected garbage, vermin infestation, unrepaired playgrounds, gang control over common spaces, routine gunfire, drug dealing, and sexual violence against women were some of the many problems facing tenants. A 1987 audit revealed that the CHA did not have a management plan, managers lacked adequate qualifications, and higher-ranking CHA officials exhibited fraudulent tendencies. This inevitably led to a federal takeover of Chicago’s public housing in 1996–1998. Once the city regained control over public housing in 1999, mayor Richard M. Daley proposed the Plan for Transformation, which called for the privatization of housing management, demolition of most high-rise projects, and renovations for most low- and mid-rise projects, which included Trumbull Park Homes.
In the early 2000s, GREC Architects and the George Sollitt Construction Company renovated Trumbull Park Homes. Each building received new mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, and environmental work included mold remediation, asbestos abatement, and lead paint removal. New walkways, paving, fencing, landscaping, and playgrounds were also included in the renovations. Today, Trumbull Park Homes continues to be owned as low-income housing by the CHA, now containing 434 units.
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