The "projects"

Those big city housing units like JJ and Weezie lived. How were they worse than any other apartment complex?

JJ – I’m not sure about Weezy – lived in subsidized housing, that is, housing for poor people that was subsidized by the federal, state or local government. Subsidized housing in its 1970’s incarnation developed a bad reputation because it concentrated poor people into select neighborhoods. These tended to be neighborhoods with crime problems and bad schools. Then you added a bunch more poor people with poor people problems. That tended not to make the neighborhoods better. Then, middle-class people who could afford better moved away to find safer neighborhoods with better schools. You can see how people left behind in those neighborhoods continued to struggle.

Wait, wasn’t Weezie George Jefferson’s wife? I thought they lived in a deluxe apartment in the sky.

Because they had income limits and were preferentially located in poor neighborhoods, large subsidized public housing projects tended to concentrate the poorest people. Because they were publicly administrated, it was more difficult to evict people for non payment of rent, a criminal background, or bad behavior (or the administration was too incompetent to) than in private buildings. They were constructed with few amenities and there was an absence of stores and small businesses that would result in more foot traffic (which would deter street crime in other neighborhoods).

Most housing projects are awful primarily as a consequence of boxing people in with an un-integrated population of exclusively poor people. The poor as a whole have fewer life options, which marginalizes them, embitters some of them, leaves others profoundly bored with nothing much to do, and leads many towards predatory inclinations as a means of acquiring what they otherwise would have to do without. What that means for any given person placed there is that they are in an enclave surrounded by bored bitter predatory people with limited horizons, limited aspirations, and a collectively shared sense of identity that probably isn’t the best collective sense of identity to participate in.

The residents are treated, in the aggregate, by police and other folks, as virtual criminals and losers and unimportant, expendable people, which of course affects the individual person placed there.
As a side effect of all of the above, the physical plant suffers. Elevators don’t work, lights in the hallway don’t work, telephone service is crappy, things are dinged up or scratched up or smashed up or ripped everywhere, doors are bent and hinges twisted and locks don’t work, windows are cracked and broken.

Before that they lived in nice house out in Queens. I think George and Weezie had to work their up that house from lesser accommodations, I don’t recall a mention of ‘the projects’, but maybe so, I didn’t watch their show much.

Read the story of the infamous Pruitt-Igoe project in St. Louis for a concrete example (no pun intended). It became so crime-infested, run down and unsafe that the whole complex had to be destroyed.

"A 1956 Missouri court decision desegregated public housing in the state.[citation needed] In 1957, occupancy of Pruitt–Igoe peaked at 91%, after which it began to decline.[14] Sources differ on how quickly depopulation occurred: according to Ramroth, vacancy rose to one-third capacity by 1965;[15] according to Newman, after a certain point occupancy never rose above 60%.[13] All authors agree that by the end of the 1960s, Pruitt–Igoe was nearly abandoned and had deteriorated into a decaying, dangerous, crime-infested neighborhood; its architect lamented: “I never thought people were that destructive”.[17]

Residents cite a lack of maintenance almost from the very beginning, including the regular breakdown of elevators, as being a primary cause of the deterioration of the project.[16] Local authorities cited a lack of funding to pay for the workforce necessary for proper upkeep of the buildings.[16] In addition, ventilation was poor, and centralized air conditioning nonexistent.[10] The stairwells and corridors attracted muggers.[10] The project’s parking and recreation facilities were inadequate; playgrounds were added only after tenants petitioned for their installation."

A big part of the problem is the fault of the architectural design of the high-rise housing projects themselves. As others have said, it is a predictably terrible idea to concentrate hundreds or thousands of poor people in high rise buildings that are isolated from the rest of the community. Suitable housing for the poor is often a difficult problem in general but high-rise projects are one of the worst ways to attack the issue. The U.S. doesn’t build high-rise housing projects in general anymore for that reason and most of them have already been torn down but other countries all over the world still have them and the results are usually the same type of terrible.

Let’s not ignore the fact that any crime (even minor troublemaking) was treated a lot differently if the victim was a project dweller than if the victim was a Right Kind of person (if you know what I mean. And if you don’t, I mean well-off and importantly White).

So not only did you have a concentration of desperate people with often not great life skills and few options even if they were well-functioning, but their closest and easiest victims were all going to be basically ignored by the police. Who’s surprised that there was a lot of crime?

Another factor was that a large urban housing project isn’t going to be built in an empty field. These projects required the demolition of existing neighbourhoods. And those neighbourhoods, while they may have had problems, at least had some sense of community. People had known each other and lived side by side for years. But when the neighbourhoods were torn down and the residents were moved into housing projects, they often found themselves living next door to strangers.

Right, I think the OP mixed up some TV characters. George and Weezie were fairly wealthy in The Jeffersons because they owned a small chain of dry cleaners in NYC. They had a live-in maid even though they didn’t need one and she didn’t really do anything. That was the theme of the show. They had money and they were determined to show it off to the world even though they didn’t quite understand what that meant because of their much less affluent backgrounds.

Good Times, with JJ, his family, and the rest, lived in a true Chicago high-rise housing project that was based on the real ones in vogue at the time. The series covers “life in the projects” fairly well for a sitcom. If you watch a few episodes, it attempts to illustrate the problems associated with their building in a semi-humorous way but many of the episodes are dire and sad as well. For one example of many, young Penny had no father growing up, she grew up in abject poverty with no lunch money sometimes and her mother physically abused her to the point of causing open wounds. It wasn’t until she was adopted by Willona Woods who was still quite poor herself, that things started to get a little better. The whole series is filled with bad situations like that.

There was an episode called “And the Doorknobs Shined Like Diamonds” where Louise made George take her to the apartment she lived in as a child because she learned it was about to be torn down by the city. I don’t remember if they specifically said it was the projects, but it looked like that type of apartment building.

The title referred to a glass doorknob that she said she’d always imagined was really a diamond, and that someday she’d take it off and sell it so they could move into a better neighborhood. Just before they left to go home she quietly unscrewed the doorknob and slipped in her pocket as a memento.

From what I understand, on top of all the issues that have been highlighted so far, there’s also the fact that low-rent public housing is typically built by the lowest bidder. Here in France at least, they tend to have tiny appartments with super thin walls (to cram as many as possible in as small a space as possible), poor ventilation, no garbage disposal of any kind, one set of toilets for the whole floor… that kind of stuff.

There’s a great documentaryabout the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex in St. Louis. Covers the pros and (mostly) cons of the idea…

if you’ve ever seen the original opening of good times where they had the camera in the car (because no one wanted them filming the area and I think in later years they had to change it )

It looks like the twin towers prison in L.A theres actually chain link fencing on the whole side of the building even the outside porch part on the side of the building

The show was based on the residents of the infamous carbrini-greene project where things were so bad that whole gangs would move in and throw the legal residents out or shove them in the back rooms if they were nice

about 5 years ago they finally tore them (I think there were 5-8 hi rises all together) down and its been mentioned as the reason for the spike in crime as all the gangs are fighting over turf since the project gangs are fighting the older gangs in other parts of town

A lot of this has already been covered by previous responses, but still …

  1. Weezie, that is Louise Jefferson, her husband George were wealthy. They lived in a nice high rise in Manhattan

  2. The Evans family on “Good Times” lived in what was probably intended to be the Cabrini Green housing project in Chicago. They never said so explicitly, but the opening sequence featured images of Cabrini Green.

The “projects” had a lot of problems, the biggest one being that it was an unprecedented intense concentration of poverty engineered by official and unofficial government and commercial policy.

To build the projects, entire working economies were demolished—mixed environments of small businesses, services, residences, and different income levels were wiped out. The former neighborhoods were walkable and thus people could get to where they needed to go, and even if they were eking out a living, a lot of people could, in a sense, afford to be poor and still get by. They had some degree of control over their environments.

The large housing projects like Cabrini Green wiped away much of the local economy, and wiped away mixed income classes. Nearly everyone was dirt poor. There were no businesses and services within walking distance and it became almost impossible for people to find jobs that they could get to easily. They were gigantic residential buildings cramming together thousands of people surrounded by a desert of parking lots.

They didn’t own their residences and municipal governments didn’t want to contribute sufficient resources or personnel to keep them in good order. Elevators didn’t work, lights weren’t fixed, power and plumbing was unreliable. Many apartments were built in such a way that residents couldn’t personalize them—painting, hanging pictures, etc., could be prohibited or impossible.

The schools serving these neighborhoods were in bad shape, for reasons of their own as well as the neighborhoods they were located in. Black neighborhoods became the center of a drug crime epidemic. The projects were dangerous, surrounded by addicts and gang members and the desperate an the hopeless.

One of the biggest lessons that we should have learned from the experience is that diversity of housing and business is critical to fighting poverty and the ghetto phenomenon. We should not allow too much poverty to be concentrated together. Poor people should live in the same neighborhoods as rich people, for many reasons, including to dilute the effects of poverty and to make it easy for poor people to access jobs.

Another thing is that the one proven effective tool for helping depressed group climb out of their situation is forced integration of schools. Where that was done, it was the only successful solution to improving minority students’ performance. But that has become politically almost impossible, just like mixed housing.

IIRC, there were a couple of policemen shot (at – I don’t remember if it was fatal) out of one of the balconies/windows at Cabrini-Green in Chicago. It was a HUGE story at the time.

I’m not sure what you mean by this. The majority of subsidized housing projects in the US since the 1980s have been mixed-use developments. Cabrini Green was replaced by one, and other demolished projects likewise.

George and Weezie started off doing occasional appearances on the show All In The Family. I don’t recall where they had moved from, but they had moved into Archie Bunker’s white, working-class neighborhood. Archie of course was thrilled to have blacks moving into his neighborhood (sarcasm). The characters were popular enough that the Jeffersons was spun off into its own show. George and Weezie moved out of Archie’s neighborhood and into their deluxe apartment in the sky with the new show.

I don’t remember where George and Weezie moved from when they moved into Archie’s neighborhood, but the projects makes sense.

They may be mixed use, but there are very few mixed income neighborhoods. That’s the key. Rich people and middle class people have for the most part kept subsidized housing and low-cost housing out of their neighborhoods.