Chicago’s Affordable Housing Crisis And What We Are Doing About It

July 11, 2013

by Beth Filipiak
Community Development Intern, JCUA

In Chicago, your bank teller may not have the basic financial means to afford “affordable housing” without being considered “cost burdened.” To be “cost burdened” is when more than 30% of your income goes to basic housing costs.

Chicago’s Affordable Housing Crisis

affordable housingWith the average price of a one bedroom rental unit in Chicago being approximately $850, a person needs an annual salary of $34,000 to afford such an apartment.  Yet a bank teller does not typically make that much. Neither do many public school bus drivers, nursing aids, receptionists or security guards.

This also almost guarantees that these same professionals would not be able to afford a mortgage of a home priced at $150,000 without being cost burdened (see more statistics here). Hence, Chicago lacks truly affordable housing options for many workers and the unemployed.

However, too many apartments remain vacant: some are caught up in Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) ‘limbo’ where they are not being lived in, or are being torn down, as CHA figures out their “Plan Forward.

Some units have out priced their neighborhood. Others are uninhabitable, though, incredibly, the US Census 2011 American Community Survey reports that there are still a few occupied units in Chicago without complete plumbing, kitchens or available phone service.

Even owning your own home has not meant that you have been unscathed by the recent housing crisis.  Most likely you know someone who is struggling with mortgage payments (as of 2010, almost 50% of homeowners were).

What We Are Doing About It

There is no doubt that things need to change for the better.  At JCUA we strongly believe in the positive ripples that stable housing provides; for individuals, families and communities.  This is why for over the past twenty years, JCUA’s Community Ventures Program has provided almost $4.5 million in seed funding to create or rehab over 3,600 units of affordable housing.

This is why we continue to look for partners with a commitment to restoring and maintaining human dignity by offering truly affordable, safe and secure housing.  For more information about our Community Ventures Program, visit our website.



Remembering Bobbie Johnson: A Fearless Community Advocate and Partner

November 5, 2012

by Judy Levey
Executive Director, JCUA

Judy Levey reflects upon her encounters with Bobbie Johnson, a fearless community advocate on Chicago’s south side, who recently passed away.

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Bobbie Johnson z”l

On Saturday, 11/3/12, I attended the memorial service of Bobbie Johnson, a woman I was honored to be able to call my friend.

Bobbie reached out to me in 2009 in my former role as the Director of Community Development at JCUA. Bobbie re-introduced me to the Rosenwald, a historic building in Bronzville on Chicago’s south side, which I was familiar with through my previous work on affordable housing preservation. She taught me about the history of the building, what it was like to live there, why it was so hard to redevelop it, and how she had been devoting more than 20 years of her life to preventing its demolition. Bobbie was not your average activist – although in my experience, “average activist” is an oxymoron. She was truly extraordinary. She was relentless, pushy, funny, determined, and knew how to celebrate life. She was a mother and grandmother, nurse, historian, organizer, program director, social worker, grant writer, teen mentor, and a bible scholar. She was larger than life.

Read the rest of this entry »


JCUA Supports Affordable Housing Proposal in Humboldt Park

September 10, 2012

Over the summer JCUA’s teen activists interned at Latin United Community Housing Organization (LUCHA) (see blog post on that).

Recently, LUCHA has reached out to JCUA to endorse the organization’s proposal for an affordable housing development project in Humboldt Park, a predominantly Latino community on Chicago’s west side.

JCUA proudly supports this proposal, and has expressed this support in a letter to Alderman Roberto Maldonado (26th Ward). Click here to read JCUA’s letter to Alderman Roberto Maldonado. This letter will be part of the file LUCHA submits with its proposal. Now this proposal includes a Jewish voice for more affordable housing in a community that needs it.

Read the rest of this entry »


Bickerdike Breaks Ground on Zapata Apartments

October 5, 2011
Ground Breaking at Zapata Apartments

Humboldt Park residents raise oranges to symbolize the fruits of their collective labor in bringing Zapata Apartments to life.

By Judy Levey
Director of Programs & Community Development

The Community Ventures Program offers a hearty congratulations to Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation, which fought long and hard in close partnership with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA) to launch Zapata Apartments.

Bickerdike, with help and support from many financial institutions and community partners, and with an early predevelopment loan from JCUA, is developing 61 units of affordable housing after several years of planning. The development will provide affordable homes to families in three new buildings in Humboldt Park for low-income members of the community.

JCUA’s CVP is a proud partner on this important, long-awaited development, which broke ground on Sept. 13, 2011.


“Ensuring the Same for All”: Rabbi Bruce Elder on the Importance of Affordable Housing

July 28, 2011

On Friday, July 29, 2011 leaders from JCUA joined some 160 other representatives of organizations that are part of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable at the White House for a policy briefing to exchange ideas on housing, healthcare, food justice and education. Below are two stories Rabbi Bruce Elder, JCUA’s new board president, shared on the importance of affordable housing.

Rabbi Bruce Elder (left) speaking to HUD leaders on the importance of affordable housing

Chicago, like most cities across the country, is in the midst of a housing crisis.  In 2011, a minimum-wage earner has to work 95 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment in the Chicago metropolitan area, or more than two full-time jobs.

With this in mind, I want to share two stories:  One exemplifies the problem low-income people and communities are currently facing, and the second demonstrates an effective strategy to solve the dire need for affordable housing.

Lathrop Homes on Chicago’s northwest side is a 900-unit development with 730 current vacancies — a shocking fact considering that over 200,000 families applied for affordable housing when the Chicago Housing Authority opened up the waiting list last year.  Why all these vacancies? Many former residents wanted to stay in their homes, but have been displaced either as a result of the Chicago Housing Authority’s current policies or other market forces beyond their control.

Too many Chicagoans are being uprooted from their homes in public housing without adequate consideration for where they will go. Read the rest of this entry »


Housing Commissioner Andrew Mooney Speaks on the Importance of Addressing the Foreclosure Crisis

July 5, 2011

Andrew Mooney, Chicago Commissioner of the Department of Housing and Economic Development, spoke at JCUA‘s 2011 Rabbi J. Marx Social Justice Awards Dinner.  Below is a copy of his powerful speech about the importance of affordable housing and people like the dinner’s honorees, Ralph Brown, Roberta Nechin and David Midgley.   

Andrew Mooney speaking at JCUA's Annual Dinner

Thank you and good evening, thank you Rami.  I am honored to be here.  When Nikki Stein asked me if I’d make these presentations tonight, I responded immediately.  Not only are tonight’s awardees long time champions of social justice, they are dear friends and colleagues, who have had an enormous impact on the things I care about most in this great city.

Ralph, David and Roberta all share the values that are the hallmark of JCUA.  They have dedicated their lives and careers to actualizing justice in the form of affordable housing in livable neighborhoods.  They have made clear what most of us know instinctively, that to live the good life we have to have certain fundamentals, and that in our society we have both the democratic imperative and the financial resources to do so if we so choose.  Ralph, David and Roberta chose to do so and their recognition tonight is richly deserved.

Yet there is a bitter irony that we are honoring these three in the midst of these remarkable financial times.  Like many of us they began their work several decades ago when both private and public institutions red-lined urban neighborhoods, which consequently destroyed the value of those neighborhoods, leaving them with few resources other than the people themselves.  I fear that the same has happened again.

Read the rest of this entry »


Housing Commissioner Andrew Mooney Speaking at Anuual Dinner on June 23

June 13, 2011

Ralph Brown, Roberta Nechin and David Midgley

We hope you will be able to join us for our social justice awards dinner on June 23 honoring Ralph Brown, Roberta Nechin and David Midgley, three people dedicated to ensuring all Chicagoans have decent, safe and affordable housing.

Andrew Mooney

Andrew Mooney, commissioner of the City of Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development, will be speaking at the dinner and presenting awards to the honorees.

Chairing the dinner is JCUA board member Peter Hanig along with JCUA advisory board member Sheldon Baskin and Kitty Freidheim of Freidheim Consulting as honorary chairs.

Whether or not you are able to attend the dinner, you can purchase tickets for our 2011 raffle for an opportunity to win an iPad 2, a six-night vacation, $1000 worth of fine jewelry, $500 for shoes or up to $150 for dinner for two.

You do not need to be present to win; however, you must be an Illinois resident to participate.


Faith Leaders Call on Washington Leaders for Renewed Public Housing Efforts

August 9, 2010

Fifty faith-based leaders, including JCUA Executive Director Jane Ramsey, gathered in Washington, D.C. July 29 to voice their concerns on the state of the nation’s public housing with Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan.

At the forefront of the discussion were concerns with newly introduced HUD legislation would call for moving public housing units to the private sector. The Preservation, Enhancement, and Transformation of Rental Assistance Act of 2010 (PETRA) would be:

“A multi-year effort to transform properties with rental assistance contracts under various programs into properties with long-term, property-based sustainable rental assistance contracts that include flexibility to address capital requirements, to enhance resident choice, and to streamline and simplify the administration of rental assistance.”

-Department of Housing and Urban Development

Hud Secretary Shaun Donovan

From a Chicagoan standpoint, the words “transform” or “transformation” with regards to the issue of public housing are likely to induce thoughts of the city’s plan for transformation, which displaced thousands of families.

The thought that the proposed HUD legislation could lead to further losses of housing for vulnerable families, said Ramsey to HUD Secretary Donovan, “would be unacceptable.”

Donovan said HUD is looking to build safeguards into the legislation to prevent housing losses, but was unclear as to what those safeguards might look like.

What does seem more certain in HUD plans, however, is a shift back to making sure those displaced by public housing redevelopment are the first placed back in newly developed housing, and a shift back to one-for-one replacement of public housing– meaning that public housing units won’t be torn down until there are new units to replace them.

Both Ramsey and other leaders at the HUD meeting expressed the overall need to bring back a national commitment to housing development that will reach our society’s most vulnerable.

Learn more about JCUA’s housing work here.


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