'The system is broke . . . it doesn't work'

June 18, 1995|By Sandy Banisky

CHICAGO -- Vince Lane, who spent seven years heading the Chicago Housing Authority, has firm ideas on how to fix public housing and improve life for its tenants:

Dismantle the system.

"The system is broke. It's bankrupt. It doesn't work," Mr. Lane said. "Spend your time changing Congress and tearing down those buildings. Don't pour more money into them."

Two weeks ago, Mr. Lane quit, turning the huge, and hugely troubled, agency over to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"It's been seven years," Mr. Lane said last week. "How much time can I spend in purgatory?"

"I just gave up on trying to reform the housing authority, the culture there," Mr. Lane said. Last fall, he warned HUD Secretary Henry G. Cisneros he wanted out. "I told him, 'Look, it just won't work,' " Mr. Lane recalled.

He describes public housing as "an absolute failure of public policy." Only the most radical changes, he says, can reform an agency that concentrates the poor in wretched buildings that cannot be maintained. He preaches privatization, downsizing and demolition.

Tear down the sprawling public projects, he says; they only concentrate the poor in hopeless ghettoes. Dilute the effects of poverty by moving poor families into mixed-income developments or stable neighborhoods. Let private management companies run and maintain the buildings.

As head of the Chicago Housing Authority, Mr. Lane says he oversaw "significant improvements" in public housing and devised strategies for profound change. But tenants and advocate groups complain that simple repairs don't get done, making daily life miserable for residents. Mr. Lane does not apologize for his priorities.

"You can spend your time in fixing plumbing and collecting rent," Mr. Lane said. "That's not where I put my energy and never will. I put my energy into creating a vision."

Until the system changes, he said, tenants will have little stake in their homes, making maintenance an impossible job.

"It's a waste of money," Mr. Lane said. "You'll never be able to change it. You fix it today, they rip it apart tomorrow."

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