Eastern Iowa fears of the Chicago migration are nothing new, and they’re beginning to become cyclical. This is the lead of a big Sunday story in The Gazette on Aug. 18, 2003:
Christina McGowan remembers well those days when she lived on Chicago’s south side. She was called First Lady. She was respected and feared. She had money….
McGowan, 26, and her three children live in a two-bedroom Cedar Rapids apartment across the street from a cornfield, eking out a much more meager, but quieter, living.
“I am on my way to that happy ending, so to speak,” said McGowan, who moved to the area last year. “I think I was supposed to be dead or in jail right now.”
McGowan is among a growing number of new Eastern Iowans moving to the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City Technology Corridor who are fleeing the poverty and crime of inner cities.
Many are coming from Chicago, which is displacing families while tearing down its projects and replacing them with mixed-income town houses. The majority are African-American families – typically single mothers with children.
But I just got off the telephone with a woman named Susan Popkin, and she doesn’t buy the notion that black people have left Chicago in large numbers as housing projects have been torn down.
Popkin is a senior fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington D.C., and she’s been tracking Chicago public housing for almost a decade. People who left Chicago’s old public housing have largely moved to other parts of Chicago, or the south suburbs, she said.
“They have not moved to Iowa,” she said. “They’re in Chicago.”
The gentrification of Chicago is the driving force behind any migration, she said.
Popkin admits no weaknesses in the Section 8 subsidized housing program that several people around here blame for importing Chicago problems into Eastern Iowa cities, except this:
High concentrations of Section 8 vouchers in one neighborhood can ruin a neighborhood, Popkin said. This is the contention of Dale Todd, a Wellington Heights resident who grew up in Chicago and moved to Cedar Rapids in 1974.
“When we develop concentrations of Section 8 housing…it can have a negative impact on the people we’re trying to help,” he said. “The inability of regular landlords to rent in that neighborhood forces them to turn to Section 8. It’s a cycle.”
Popkin said it’s up to the local housing authority to be prudent in how it directs the vouchers. This requires outreach to new landlords, so more will accept them, so the vouchers will be spread out evenly across a community.
“When you have a modest number of voucher holders in a neighborhood it’s often good for property values because it’s a guaranteed income stream for landlords,” she said.
Filed under: Cedar Rapids Library, Public Safety, Cedar Rapids, Chicago, crime, CRPD, Eastern Iowa, housing, HUD, Iowa, Linn County, public housing, Section 8, Urban