In observance of Women’s History Month, NPHM celebrates the life and accomplishments of Dorothy Gautreaux, a community organizer, housing activist and resident of the Altgeld-Murray apartments in the South Side of Chicago. Together with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Gautreaux filed suit against the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), alleging racial discrimination in the distribution of public housing in the city of Chicago.
While Gautreaux died of cancer before a ruling was made, a Federal Judge found in favor of Gautreaux shortly after in 1969. The impacts of this case on the fair and equitable distribution of public housing are widely felt today in Chicago and beyond. The restructuring of City Council rules diminished the control of aldermen over the development of public housing in their wards, which had led to almost all public housing being built in poor, black neighborhoods.
The resulting “scattered site” program in the city led to a more even distribution of public housing amongst Chicago’s various neighborhoods. The Gautreaux Assisted Housing Program helped people living in public housing move to communities which had previously been closed off to them.
Nationally, the program inspired Congress to create the Moving to Opportunity Program, helping families in public housing across the country move to more economically prosperous and racially diverse neighborhoods. Gautreaux’s case continues to shape how the CHA plans and develops housing in the city, and her activism was vital to the success of one of the most influential public housing desegregation lawsuits in the nation’s history.
To learn more about the nationwide history of housing segregation and activism, please visit the Museum’s upcoming exhibit Undesign the Redline, opening April 4th at our office on 625 N. Kingsbury St.