If you think “nightmare” when you hear about Chicago’s high-rise public-housing projects, Beauty Turner wants to take you for a ride. Turner’s “ghetto bus tour” acquaints sightseers with the vanishing world of the city’s South Side projects and attracts an eclectic mix including journalists, academics, and white suburbanites. The 50-year-old Turner — assistant editor of the public-housing newspaper Residents’ Journal — tells her audiences that “a little bit of everything in your community” was present in places notorious for gang violence and drugs. “The world needs to know that there was a community in public housing, not just a list of horror stories in the newspapers,” she was quoted as saying in a Los Angeles Times report on her tour.
Since the late 1990s, the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation has moved residents out of and demolished 50 of the city’s 53 public-housing high-rises to make way for mixed-income development. Housing Authority officials fault Turner for downplaying the plan’s benefits. Close to 39,000 apartments are to be replaced with about 25,000 new or rehabilitated units, according to CHA spokesman Bryan Zises.
To Turner, who once lived at the Robert Taylor Homes, the process has severed vital human connections. The Section 8 vouchers handed to displaced residents “like trick-or-treat candy,” Turner told NPR host Farai Chideya in a recent interview, are a bait-and-switch proposition, leaving many people unable to find affordable housing elsewhere in the city and without the prospect of returning to their neighborhood.