2022 Explanatory Reporting, Small Newsroom finalist

Cabrini-Green: A History of Broken Promises

About the Project

A quarter-century ago, Chicago’s longest-serving mayor in history, Richard M. Daley, made many promises to the thousands of residents living in the Cabrini-Green public housing development to persuade them his plan to tear down their homes and break up their community was a good idea.

More than 3,500 families were told they could come back after the city’s most famous public housing community was demolished and redeveloped into a mix of apartments, condominiums and single-family homes. They were promised they’d receive many of the hundreds of construction jobs that would be created for that redevelopment. And local business leaders were assured they would share in the hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts flowing into the neighborhood.

It was all malarkey.

In a first-of-its-kind report card on those promises, the Better Government Association’s Senior Investigative Reporter Alejandra Cancino documented the city’s failing grades, and the more than $2 billion in taxpayer money still being spent to redevelop the neighborhood and in the process transform a Black neighborhood into a white one.

Cancino found that fewer than one of every five Cabrini residents kicked out by the Daley administration were ever allowed to return. Many died waiting. Even today, the names of 85 families remain on lists that are decades old, with family members holding on to futile hopes they will be able to move back to the neighborhood.

Skeptical residents who were told they’d receive many of the 2,500 coveted construction jobs got only 40. And of the nearly 4,000 new homes already constructed or underway, only 48 are being built by a construction firm owned by a former Cabrini resident — the only Black-owned builder on the decades-long project.

Instead, the money went to mostly white developers, many with political connections. Now there are beautified parks, a river walk, new schools, luxury condos … even an Apple store. The amount of taxpayer money allocated so far amounts to more than $550,000 for each of the more than 3,500 families who once lived in Cabrini-Green. And the influx of wealth, resources and jobs to the Near North Side has done little to benefit those who used to live there —- despite the city’s promises to the contrary.

“They never gave a f… about us working,” one frustrated Cabrini leader told Cancino.