Lane, Vincent 1942–
Vincent Lane 1942–
Public housing administrator, business executive
Unlike most wealthy real estate developers in the United States, Vincent Lane has spent his career working on both the private and public sides of the low-income housing business. While continuing his own highly successful development firm, Lane became a figure of national importance in 1988, when he assumed control of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), the nation’s second largest provider of public housing. Since then, Lane has become a renowned consultant on housing issues throughout the country and served as part of the advisory committee that chose Henry Cisneros as President Bill Clinton’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
The CHA had a long and well-deserved reputation as one of the worst-run housing authorities in the country, many of its 46,000 apartments located in high-rise monstrosities infamous as centers of crime, drugs, and gang warfare. Lane was given virtually no chance of successfully turning around this massive urban disaster—indeed, many experts believe that all such high-rise public housing should be torn down. But in the first five years of his tenure at the CHA, Lane brought to his job a combination of energy and new ideas that has given tens of thousands of public housing residents in Chicago some hope for a better future. And at the same time, Lane has quietly become one of the nation’s largest landlords, his private business concerns now owning or managing upwards of 40,000 residential units nationwide.
Lane often explains his ability to gain the confidence and respect of poor Chicagoans by describing himself as a “country person,” as he told Jorge Casuso of the Chicago Tribune. Lane was born March 29, 1942, in the small Mississippi town of West Point, where his father, Doyle, worked at a sawmill and his mother Berthe Lee ran a strict household. It was Berthe Lee who first thought of moving her three sons to Chicago, since factory jobs were plentiful there during World War II and daily life was not officially segregated by race. In July of 1942, when Vincent Lane was just four months old, Berthe led the Lane family to the South Side of Chicago and a new life far removed from the one they had known in rural Mississippi.
Doyle Lane soon found work in a copper smelting factory, and the Lanes moved into an apartment above a grocery store near Comiskey Park. Across the street from their flat was Wentworth Gardens, an example of Chicago’s recent commitment to provide housing for citizens too poor to afford it otherwise. As a young boy, Lane remembered envying the
Born March 29, 1942, in West Point, MS; son of Doyle (a factory worker) and Berthe Lee Lane; married, c. 1965 (divorced, 1971); children: three sons. Education: Roosevelt University, B.S., 1966; University of Chicago, M.B.A., 1973.
U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, became supervisor, mid-1960s; worked variously in the accounting departments of institutions including Mt. Sinai Hospital, International Harvester, and U.S. Steel; Woodlawn Community Development Corporation, Chicago, senior vice-president, 1972-1976; president and general manager of Urban Services and Development, Inc., and LSM Venture Associates (housing management companies), 1976-88; Chicago Housing Authority, executive director, 1988-91, chairman, 1988—; American Community Housing Associates, Inc., Chicago, chief executive, 1991—. Member of the board of directors of many Chicago organizations, included United Charities, Goodman Theatre, Hispanic Housing Development Corporation, and National Association of Severely Distressed Public Housing.
Awards: Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Regional Award for minority developer of the year, 1986; HUD certificate of special achievement, 1989; named by U.S. News & World Report as one of its “National Heroes of 1991.”
Addresses: Office —Chicago Housing Authority, 22 West Madison, Chicago, IL 60602; or, American Community Housing Associates, Inc., 343 South Dearborn, Suite 1500, Chicago, IL 60604.
residents of Wentworth Gardens their tidy and relatively comfortable homes; at that time, the CHA was a small organization able to screen the backgrounds of its multiethnic clients before awarding them one of its new apartments or semi-detached homes. As a result, public housing such as Wentworth Gardens was highly sought after and generally free of crime. “Wentworth parents,” Lane recalled in an interview with Paul Glastris for U.S. News & World Report, “were the type who showed up at PTA meetings.”
That situation changed rapidly in the 1950s. With the city’s swelling population of impoverished minorities, the CHA was forced to admit virtually anyone who applied, housing many in new high-rise structures that have remained a plague on the city ever since. To escape their deteriorating neighborhood, the Lanes moved farther south to the city of Englewood in 1957, when Vincent was fifteen years old. His father was able to buy and renovate a number of apartment buildings there, and Vincent became familiar with the ins and outs of routine construction techniques and the economics of housing.
While pursuing a degree in business from Chicago’s Roosevelt University, Lane worked at the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, eventually becoming a supervisor; after finishing his degree in 1966, he held important positions in the accounting departments of Mt. Sinai Hospital, International Harvester, and U.S. Steel. But the ambitious young Lane felt thwarted in the corporate world by subtle forms of discrimination. “I could speak better than they could, I could write better, I carried a bigger load,” Lane noted in the Chicago Tribune. “Skin color was the only difference.”
Lane proved to be a born entrepreneur. He attended night classes at the University of Chicago’s prestigious business school, receiving an M.B.A. in 1973, and took a job as senior vice-president of the Woodlawn Community Development Corporation. Woodlawn Development, part of the Woodlawn Organization founded by the famed social activist Saul Alinsky, was involved in the development of nonprofit housing in and around the university’s Hyde Park location on the city’s South Side. The African American-run company allowed Lane to work in an atmosphere free of social handicaps, and he took pride in the low-cost housing developed by Woodlawn. The combination of social responsibility and capitalist incentives proved to be irresistible for Lane, who in 1976 formed his own housing management company, Urban Services and Development.
Created in partnership with two other investors, Urban Services became a specialist in the politically complex development of federally subsidized housing projects. Such undertakings usually involved the coordination of government funds (under the Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD]) and a private contractor/manager such as Urban Services, which would build or manage a low-income housing complex for a stated fee. Lane also formed a second company called LSM Venture Associates, which along with Urban Services developed ten large, federally financed real estate projects between 1976 and 1988. Lane’s work as a developer made him a millionaire and gave him backroom experience at HUD, the key organization for anyone interested in public housing in the United States.
Chicago remained the center of Lane’s activities, and the center of Chicago public housing remained the Chicago Housing Authority. When Eugene Sawyer, then acting mayor of the city following the death of Mayor Richard J. Daley, began searching for a new CHA chief in 1988, the agency had used up eight directors in the preceding five years and was widely perceived as a corrupt, inefficient bureaucracy. High-rise complexes such as Cabrini-Green and the Robert Taylor Homes were recognized nationally as examples of urban decay in its most advanced state. HUD was threatening to take control of the CHA, so badly managed were its 40,000 apartments, and a growing number of observers believed that most of its buildings should simply be torn down.
In the spring of 1988, Vincent Lane was nominated by Mayor Sawyer to become executive director of the CHA, with former Illinois governor Richard Ogilvie to be chairman. On May 10, however, Ogilvie died of a heart attack, and Lane lobbied for both titles and a free hand to restore order in the CHA system. Support for Lane was so strong that arrangements were made that allowed him to assume his new duties while continuing to run his private companies, which in many instances received funds from the CHA.
Once his nomination was approved by the city council, Lane gave early notice that his reign would be unlike those of previous CHA directors. He selected what was probably the worst of all CHA sites, the Rockwell Gardens development, where rival street gangs were in the midst of a war for control of the buildings, and in September of 1988 led a force of 60 police officers and a handful of CHA employees on what he called a “security sweep” of the largest building. A single, temporary entrance was put up in the development, and officers combed the building room by room for drugs and weapons. All legal residents of the building were issued photo IDs, and all others were escorted out. The raid made headlines in Chicago as a dramatic example of Lane’s commitment to cleaning up the projects. “Operation Clean Sweep,” as it came to be called, also resulted in a substantial decrease in robberies and murders in the Rockwell Gardens development.
After agreeing with the American Civil Liberties Union to limit the scope of the searches, Lane’s men went on to “sweep” 55 of the CHA’s 155 high-rise buildings in the next three years, in the process winning national recognition for Lane. The director made a similar assault on the CHA’s sluggish bureaucracy, firing many upper-level administrators and transferring or firing many managers of the organization’s 19 largest complexes, some of whom had become tools of the local gangs. In addition, Lane’s staff tightened accounting procedures and made every effort to cut costs. In recognition of its new discipline, HUD has increased federal grants to the CHA every year since Lane’s arrival. Although his policies have been widely praised, some critics believe that Lane is “the captain of the Titanic,” as Ed Marciniak told the Tribune. “While he turns one development around, four or five are going down the tubes.”
Lane, however, argues that he will succeed in cleaning up all of Chicago’s public housing. He told Prime Time Live correspondent Judd Rose that he plans to push the heavily armed gangs and druglords out of the housing projects and into “Lake Michigan” or, better yet, “into suburbia,” where the problems of drugs and violence will gain immediate national attention and be eradicated instead of tolerated. At the root of the housing project nightmare is the fact that “this country has a standard for normal people, and a [lower] standard for poor people,” Lane explained to Rose. Lane feels compelled to devote his life’s work to improving those standards for the disadvantaged.
In 1992 Lane showcased a $17 million experimental project in mixed-income housing: Lake Parc Place contains nearly 300 apartments that have been divided among both the unemployed poor and working class families, with all applicants carefully screened before admittance. Lane believes that working families can be attracted to such a development by low rents and quality building, and once there will serve as both an inspiration and a peacekeeping force to the poorer residents. Forcing tenants to take responsibility for their building, he makes neighborhood patrols and grounds upkeep a mandatory part of each rental agreement and sees to the enforcement of curfews for the project’s children.
In addition to his groundbreaking work for the CHA, Lane expanded his private business concerns in 1991, becoming chief executive of American Community Housing Associates, a newly formed for-profit company. American Community Housing struck a deal with a California company to buy some or all of its 40,000 low-income residential units in 26 states, an acquisition that would make Lane’s firm the largest black-owned real estate company in the United States.
But Lane realizes that his other concern, namely the problems of the Chicago Housing Authority, remain far from over. In October of 1992, for instance, seven-year-old Cabrini-Green resident Dantrell Davis was shot and killed by a sniper’s bullet while walking to school with his mother. And so Lane continues to struggle with the grim realities of public housing in Chicago.
Business Week, October 28, 1991.
Chicago Tribune, July 22, 1990.
Fortune, November 20, 1989.
Newsweek, August 19, 1991; March 15, 1993.
U.S. News & World Report, August 26/September 2, 1991.
Additional information for this sketch was obtained from a December 17, 1992 broadcast of ABC-TV’s Prime Time Live. Lane was also profiled on ABC’s World News Tonight in July of 1992.
"Lane, Vincent 1942–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 10, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/lane-vincent-1942
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