Since the late 1970s, the high-rise developments of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) have been dominated by gang violence and drugs, creating a sense of hopelessness among residents. Despite a lengthy war on crime, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, the CHA has been unable to reduce the violence that makes life intolerable. Focusing on three developments—Rockwell Gardens, Henry Horner Homes, and Harold Ickes Homes—Sue Popkin and her co-authors interview residents, community leaders, and CHA staff. The Hidden War chronicles the many failed efforts of the CHA to combat crime and improve its developments, offering a vivid portrait of what life is like when lived among bullets, graffiti, and broken plumbing.
Most families living in these developments are headed by African American single mothers. The authors reveal the dilemmas facing women and children who are often victims or witnesses of violent crime, and yet are dependent on the perpetrators and their drug-dominant economy. The CHA—plagued by financial scandals, managerial incompetence, and inconsistent funding—is no match for thegang-dominated social order. Even well-intentioned initiatives such as the recent effort to demolish and “revitalize” the worst developments seem to be ineffective at combating crime, while the drastic changes leave many vulnerable families facing an uncertain future. The Hidden War sends a humbling message to policy makers and prognosticators who claim to know the right way to “solve poverty.”