The program has helped people like Denise Boyd, who lived in the North Side of Chicago, in an apartment building that she said got a little too busy at night. When she got off the Section 8 waiting list two years, ago, she says, she was skeptical about the idea of moving to Glenview.
Her kids liked the Chicago school they were in and had friends there, and Boyd goes to church frequently and didn't like the idea of a 45-minute drive, or more, just to get to church.
But then she visited Glenview and loved the trees and flowers in the Glenview building, which has a community garden and a big lawn. The stores are nicer in Glenview, she said, and the schools are excellent, too.
"Adults have to realize, when you have kids, it's all about your children now," she told me. "You have to make sure your children are happy and safe."
While RHI has been effective at convincing both suburban and urban housing authorities to participate in the program, other factors helped too. For example, the recession of 2008 meant that developers had parcels of land that they couldn't offload, and were amenable to selling them to people interested in building affordable housing for fair prices. The recession also meant that many municipalities were looking for ways to encourage building on land that had once been zoned for manufacturing or business. The town of Crystal Lake, for instance, changed some zoning laws during the recession to allow the construction of certain apartment units, and the town now has a 60-unit development — many of which are affordable — complete with a pool, volleyball courts, and an exercise center.
"Local towns are now more open to non-traditional uses of suburban land," said Julie Biel Claussen, the head of the McHenry County Housing Authority.
Before the Crystal Lake project was built, suburban residents worried that affordable housing would look like Cabrini Green, Claussen said. But now that affordable units have been built through the Regional Housing Initiative, residents have been complimenting the townhouses going up, not even knowing the units are for low-income residents.
"It's a great way to show that affordable housing isn't just a warehouse of poor people," she said.
Housing advocates have long debated the merits of moving low-income families from high-poverty urban areas to suburbs like Glenview. The move can be challenging for families, who leave behind family and friends and enter a new, affluent world. But the research is increasingly conclusive: Living in a "good" zip code dramatically improves kids' chances of going to college, getting a good job, and escaping poverty.
And yet, it can be hard to convince voucher-holders to move to the suburbs. Boyd worried that she would face racism, and that her children wouldn't like being among only a handful of black kids at their school. Boyd says the move was difficult — her kids miss their friends, and Boyd's own friends who use public transit never come out to visit, because it's so difficult to get to Glenview. She still hasn't found a church she likes — the ones in Glenview are "Catholic or Matholic or who knows what," she joked. (To help with these sorts of difficulties, the Regional Housing Initiative is testing a program that will give voucher-holders money to move to high opportunity areas, and should have some results by the fall.)