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Ford Heights (formerly East Chicago Heights) is a village in Cook County, Illinois, United States. The population was 2,763 at the 2010 census, down from 3,456 in 2000. It is located approximately 25 miles (40 km) south of downtown Chicago and is part of the Chicago–Naperville–Joliet, IL-IN-WI Metropolitan Statistical Area.
Ford Heights is located at 41°30′33″N 87°35′17″W.
According to the 2010 census, Ford Heights has a total area of 1.95 square miles (5.05 km2), all land. The village lies on the edge of the Tinley Moraine.
The area that would eventually become Ford Heights was first settled in the late 1840s. It served as a stopping point on the Underground Railroad for runaway slaves fleeing to freedom. By the early 20th century, the area had developed into an agricultural community of farms operated mostly by Poles, Lithuanians, and Italians. After World War I, African Americans from the Southern U.S. migrated to the area and worked on the farms.
A new subdivision known as the "Park Addition" was created on a farm road from Chicago Heights to Indiana, and it attracted residents to the area during the early 1920s. In 1924, 40 families successfully petitioned for electrical service. Soon after, the main east-west road became a two-lane concrete highway designated as U.S. Route 30, part of the transcontinental Lincoln Highway. By the 1930s, the Park Addition had telephone service and was known as East Chicago Heights. During the 1940s, Alberta Armstrong and others organized both black and white women in the community to raise funds for a new fire truck. By 1948, they had become the East Chicago Heights Citizens Association.
East Chicago Heights was incorporated as a village in 1949. In the 1950 census, 1,548 people lived in the village – 76.9% of whom were black. The Ford Motor Company opened a stamping plant adjacent to the village in 1956. The company offered minorities an equal opportunity for well-paying jobs, and East Chicago Heights developed into a blue-collar community inhabited mostly by middle-class black families whose housing choices in suburban Chicago were severely limited at that time. The village's population more than doubled to 3,270 by 1960. That growth continued throughout the decade, with one of the biggest successes being the Sunnyfield subdivision, which opened in 1964 and became one of the most popular neighborhoods in East Chicago Heights.
Towards the end of the 1960s, over 60 acres (24 ha) of housing deemed substandard were cleared and replaced by federally subsidized public housing. These developments attracted lower income residents to East Chicago Heights, which strained the village's resources, already limited by little commercial activity and a small tax base. The population rose to 5,000 in 1970 and peaked at 5,347 in 1980. In an attempt to annex the unincorporated site of the Ford Stamping Plant, the village of East Chicago Heights changed its name to Ford Heights in 1987. The move was unsuccessful, and the land eventually was annexed by the neighboring city of Chicago Heights.
Often viewed as one of Chicago's most impoverished suburbs and at one point the poorest suburb in the United States, Ford Heights has experienced high levels of political corruption, decaying infrastructure, and an elevated crime rate. In 2008, the Cook County Sheriff's Department took over law enforcement duties for the village. Between 1980 and 2010, the population of Ford Heights declined by more than 48%.
As of the census of 2000, there were 3,456 people, 984 households, and 779 families residing in the village. The population density was 1,954.9 people per square mile (753.9/km²). There were 1,019 housing units at an average density of 576.4 per square mile (222.3/km²). The racial makeup of the village was 1.77% White, 95.89% African American, 0.06% Native American, 0.12% Asian, 1.16% from other races, and 1.01% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.52% of the population.
There were 984 households out of which 48.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 21.5% were married couples living together, 49.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 20.8% were non-families. 18.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 4.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.51 and the average family size was 3.98.
In the village, the population was spread out with 45.3% under the age of 18, 11.2% from 18 to 24, 22.7% from 25 to 44, 14.0% from 45 to 64, and 6.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 21 years. For every 100 females, there were 86.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 70.1 males.
The median income for a household in the village was $17,500, and the median income for a family was $16,706. Males had a median income of $28,750 versus $20,243 for females. The per capita income for the village was $8,938. About 45.1% of families and 49.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 62.0% of those under age 18 and 29.1% of those age 65 or over. This is one of the highest rates in an urban area in the United States.
Ford Heights is in Illinois' 2nd congressional district.
Public education in the village of Ford Heights is provided by Ford Heights School District 169 and Bloom Township High School District 206: Ford Heights School District 169 operates two campuses: Medgar Evers Primary Academic Center (grades PK-4) and Cottage Grove Upper Grade Center (grades 5-8). High school students in Ford Heights attend Bloom Trail High School, which is part of Bloom Township High School District 206.
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