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"Farewell to the Leadership Council"

May/June 2006 issue of Poverty & Race

One of the concrete outcomes of the Chicago Freedom Movement was the founding of the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities in 1966. The organization was created as part of the final agreement reached on August 26, 1966, between the Movement and the City of Chicago. Now, four decades later, the Leadership Council is closing its doors for good.

As one of the country’s first fair housing advocacy organizations, LCMOC set a national example with its mix of training, testing, advocacy, policy research and direct service. Its successful administration of the Gautreaux housing mobility program helped over 7,000 families move to higher-opportunity areas throughout the Chicago region, setting an example for mobility programs in many other cities. For those of us who continue to work to promote housing choice and desegregation, the Leadership Council has been a source of inspiration. Here is an excerpt from the group’s official closing statement:

It is with sadness that we report that one of the oldest and largest fair housing organizations in the country, the Leadership Council, will close operations after 40 years, effective June 2, 2006. At the May board meeting the Board of Directors…voted to cease operations. Connie Lindsey, Board Chairperson…, said “all options were thoroughly explored, it was a very difficult decision for the whole board. Also, the current funding environment made it difficult to raise the necessary funds to continue important fair housing, mobility, advocacy and legal programs.”

Today, more choices are available to minorities in Chicago and the region (although income tends to be a factor in that equation). However, discrimination still exists. In 2006, discrimination is subtle and sophisticated. Discrimination occurs through racial steering to various communities and mortgage products, omission of information, linguistic profiling and other invisible means.

Yet there has been progress. Much of that progress directly ties to the programs of the Leadership Council. The 40-year legacy of the Council includes landmark lawsuits, advocacy for affirmative public policies, an engagement with the housing industry, and the nationally recognized Gautreaux mobility program. Together, these actions actively increased integration and housing choice in the region.

Today’s segregation is a segregation of opportunity. Minorities and low- to moderate-income persons, especially those of color, are largely housed in neighborhoods and communities that have few employment opportunities, poor schools, crumbling infrastructures, shrinking tax bases due in large measure to the disinvestments associated with the racial composition of the community, and limited transportation networks. Meanwhile, whites and middle- and upper-income persons enjoy plentiful job growth, good schools, steady investment and more abundant transportation choices.

Dr. King’s mission, left to us, has yet to be completed. We still need to make this an open region because it’s right, it’s practical and it’s sound economics. We still need to ensure that no one is humiliated or disadvantaged through limitations based upon race or income.

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