Urban Research Monitor
Gautreaux's Legacy

When the Gautreaux program started in 1976, it offered a way out for participants living in housing projects where crime was rampant, neighborhood schools poor, and job opportunities few. Under the legal remedy establishing the Gautreaux program, HUD agreed to provide portable vouchers, mobility counseling, and housing location assistance to help 7,100 families move from Chicago's projects to private housing, 75 percent of which had to be located in Chicago's suburbs.

When Rubinowitz and Rosenbaum interviewed and surveyed families participating in the relocation program, they found that 70 percent of those who had moved to the suburbs before 1990 still lived there in 1997. Those families, who crossed both color and class lines, were pioneers according to the authors because they often were the first—and sometimes the only—low-income black residents in their communities. In contrast, participating families who moved to other locations within the city often moved to areas similar to those they had left, which averaged 99 percent black.

Of most interest to Rubinowitz and Rosenbaum is what happened to the suburban movers in terms of major quality of life indicators. Did they feel safer after they moved? Were they able to fit into their communities? How did their children fare in their new schools?

Safety. According to Rubinowitz and Rosenbaum, Gautreaux program participants felt dramatically safer living in the suburbs. Crime and violence had presented a constant threat to families living in the projects, whereas in the suburbs they felt relatively free from the fear of crime. They also believed that their children were significantly less vulnerable to gang recruitment.

Social Integration. Questions about issues of social integration received mixed responses. On the positive side, most movers felt accepted by their white neighbors. However, they did experience various forms of racial prejudice and harassment when they first moved to their new neighborhoods, including racial epithets, discriminatory treatment when shopping, and stone throwing. Almost all reported that these incidents gradually ceased and that they now felt accepted within their communities. In fact, Rubinowitz and Rosenbaum concluded that there was little difference in overall social integration between city and suburban movers.

Schooling. The analysis revealed that most of the children who moved to the suburbs faced significant adjustment problems in the months immediately following their moves. However, the suburban movers were significantly more likely than their city counterparts to be attending a 4-year college, taking college—track classes in high school, or working at a job with good pay and benefits.

Rubinowitz and Rosenbaum believe that the Gautreaux program demonstrates that where one lives affects opportunities and life outcomes. In the Gautreaux program, "low income blacks showed the motivation and capacity to take advantage of the opportunities available in the predominantly white, middle-class, suburban communities to which they [had] moved." The analysis also indicates that many of these benefits cross generations: They improve the life chances of the participants, their children, and generations beyond.

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