Public housing museum moves closer to a permanent home

The Chicago Housing Authority plans to donate a historic West Side housing project for the creation of a museum telling the story of public housing in America.

Acquiring the land and property at 1322-24 W. Taylor St., part of Jane Addams Homes, will be a major step forward for the National Public Housing Museum, which began a decade ago as the brainchild of Deverra Beverly, president of the local council for the CHA's ABLA Homes.

"It's a huge, significant milestone for the museum," said project director Susanne Schnell. "This sends a positive signal to all potential funders that we have a permanent home."

The donation is contingent upon the nonprofit raising the $17 million it will cost to build the museum, but the blessing from the CHA's board of commissioners will make it easier to attract funding from both the federal government and private philanthropists.

Rep. Danny Davis and Sen. Dick Durbin have promised to fight for $5 million in federal funding; the nonprofit should know by next spring whether the congressmen were successful.

Although the museum is not scheduled to open at Jane Addams Homes until 2012, it continues to collect oral histories and mount educational programs elsewhere in the city. It will present a panel discussion on the social and political tensions accompanying the remaking of public housing at the Chicago Humanities Festival in the fall.

"It's really important that people not just see this as a downtime where we're raising money," Schnell said.