In late 2004, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) initiated a public relations campaign to put a new face on their Plan For Transformation, a plan that drastically reshapes the state of public housing in Chicago.
This PR campaign, authored by the advertising giant Leo Burnett, fused Chicago Housing Authority's acronym "CHA" with the word "change", resulting in a new brand identity: CHAnge. There are undoubtedly big changes happening with public housing in Chicago, including massive organizational restructuring within CHA and the tearing down of all high-rise public housing buildings.
Unfortunately, the priorities of CHA haven't changed at all, and public housing residents are still at the bottom of the list. While the CHAnge campaign has attempted to put a 'resident empowerment' spin on the Plan for Transformation, in reality the majority of public housing residents have been adversely affected by the massive restructuring. If you are a single working mother displaced by a home demolition, waiting over 6 months for a voucher to relocate as your children are shifted from school to school, CHAnge feels a lot more like CHAos.
The original CHAnge campaign ads appeared in Chicago's public transit, billboards, bus shelters and newspapers. In addition to the CHAnge ad campaign and their brand makeover, the CHA has purchased public history itself in order to sell the Plan for Trans-formation. After receiving $183,167 for 'exhibitor services' from the CHA, the Chicago Historical Society mounted an exhibition touting the Plan for Transformation and re-writing the history of the CHA's troubled past.
As with the CHA's other exhibits, this one indirectly blamed the residents for the demise of public housing and attempted to close the book on this chapter of history. The current chapter in CHA"s history, however, is far from over. As the wrecking balls come down, it is urgent that we listen to the resident voices and the critical pieces of history that are missing in the CHA's ads.
The Plan for Transformation is a $1.6 billion blueprint that includes the demolition of 14,000 public housing units and the displacement of over 20,000 people. Not unlike the "urban renewal" master plans of previous decades, the Plan For Transformation has linked motives. It is pushing poor people out of the now-coveted inner city neighborhoods and increasing the exchange value of existing public land through privatization. Developers such as Dan McLean are making millions building on the land adjacent to former CHA high-rises and getting huge city tax credits to subsidize their development. In addition, the city is making money by selling or leasing former CHA public land to private developers. In this way, large amounts of our cityÃ•s housing budget are being transferred into private hands. CHA CEO Terry Peterson was personally implicated in this when he was caught giving CHA bids to contractors like the Habitat Group in exchange for political contributions.