Thousands of Chicago families face crushing poverty on a daily basis and have little access to decent, affordable housing and quality education. Conditions in many neighborhoods have dramatically deteriorated as a result of the foreclosure crisis and economic downturn. Confronting this difficult challenge, attorneys and policy specialists from Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI) work to transform isolated public housing into healthy mixed-income communities, increase the availability of affordable housing throughout the region, improve Chicago’s public schools and promote open and honest government in Illinois. As both a law and policy center, BPI collaborates with key Chicago and Illinois institutions, including government agencies, foundations, community organizations, businesses, law firms, and academic institutions to change public policy.
BPI public housing director and former executive director Alexander Polikoff successfully argued the landmark 1976 Gautreaux case in which the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the Chicago Housing Authority had unconstitutionally segregated African American public housing residents. For more than 40 years, BPI has continued its work to break down the racial segregation and economic isolation that produced one of the worst public housing systems in the nation. Today, the reform efforts of BPI and others are helping to guide Chicago’s $1.6 billion Plan for Transformation, which aims to end the racial, economic and social isolation of public housing residents.
BPI’s dedication to innovative ideas and creative policy initiatives also extends to its other program areas and its own internal program design and management. A highlight is the Polikoff-Gautreaux Fellowship Program, which was created in 1999 to give recent law and public policy graduates hands-on experience and the legal and analytical skills necessary to build careers in public interest law and advocacy.
The MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions arrives at a transformative time for BPI. As BPI manages its robust housing, education and political reform agenda focused on today’s issues, it recognizes the need to explore what lies ahead to determine its future focus.
BPI will use its $750,000 award to shape its future strategic initiatives, support key investments in the Polikoff-Gautreaux Fellowship Endowment Fund, and upgrade its communications tools, including a redesigned website. These investments will bring a fresh perspective to BPI’s work at a critical time in its history, and equip it with the best available tools and expertise to effectively tackle Chicago’s social justice issues.