by Lauren Goldstein, Community and Policy Intern
(2nd year student at the University of Chicago, Social Service Administration MA program)
As winter nears, it is evermore concerning that there are currently over 68,000 low-income families and senior citizens waiting for the Chicago Housing Authority to afford them a place to call home. What’s more, CHA has failed to lease over 2000 vacant units of public housing across Chicago. These units could, and should, be providing homes to the people who desperately need them. This is why the JCUA is a member of the Chicago Housing Initiative’s “Lease-Up!” campaign.
It’s that time of year again here in Chicago – the leaves are falling, the temperatures are dropping, and darkness is falling earlier and earlier. Before winter sets in, it is of grave importance that the 68,000+ low-income families and senior citizens who have been waiting for housing from the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) are afforded a place to call home. Given the CHA’s failure to properly and efficiently address the thousands of vacant units currently shuttered across the city and allow some of the 60,000 families who remain on the wait-list (as of March 2012) to lease these units, the JCUA has decided to join the Chicago Housing Initiative’s (CHI) “Lease-Up!” campaign. We firmly believe that housing is a human right, and have chosen to take a stand.
The CHI Lease-Up Campaign is determined to see every public housing unit that has been rehabilitated or is otherwise habitable be immediately leased to one of the tens of thousands of Chicago residents who want nothing more than a home. In late April, 2012, Jim Miller, one of the very residents who has patiently awaited housing for over a year, told the Chicago Tribune that if one were to ask anybody whose name appears on the CHA wait-list what they wanted, “the answer is clear. It’s a place of their own.” By joining the Lease-Up campaign, the JCUA hopes to help Mr. Miller, and the many residents in similar situations, achieve just that.
To understand why the Lease-Up campaign is so urgent, it is necessary to understand the facts. Statistics provided by the Chicago Housing Initiative state that over 3,300 units remain unavailable, “offline”, even though the CHA may, in fact, be receiving federal funding to revitalize and lease these units. The CHA’s 2011 budget report points to the fact that only 61.8% of family housing units are being occupied – a clear issue given the enormous wait-list, and in the years since 2000, the actual total number of units has dropped significantly. It is unclear why available housing has shrunk over time though, given that 21% of federal funding allotted to the CHA with the sole purpose of repairing and redeveloping units has not been spent. According to the CHI, this means that there is approximately $611 million dollars that is unaccounted for. Imagine what this funding could have translated to for any number of the families in dire need of a home.
CHI has established three main goals to attain with their campaign, and buy joining hands with them, we hope to help make this plan a reality. We hope to make the CHA more transparent so that reporting on unit turn-around and vacancy is made public. This will hopefully provide a way to know about any unit that is left without a family for a substantial amount of time. CHI also aims to have any rehabilitated, yet still vacant, homes be occupied immediately. Finally, housing sites that the CHA planned to revitalize over 10 years ago but that remain untouched need to be rehabilitated and occupied as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, rather than addressing the already-planned-for projects, the CHA has continued moving backward, recently announcing plans to demolish around 1,800 units, including 600 apartments in Altgeld Gardens on the far south side of Chicago, as well as making disheartening changes to the Cabrini Row houses and the Lathrop Homes that would decrease the number of units available for public housing (see story on WBEZ).
The JCUA is no stranger to helping advance the CHI Lease-Up campaign, but the time has come to fully join in pushing for a brighter tomorrow for the thousands of human beings currently being denied the opportunity to reside in apartments that are vacant and missing the warmth of a family. Last April, the JCUA hosted a teach-in for over 150 displaced residents and their allies in the Spertus Building on Michigan Avenue. This moment allowed victims of the CHA’s policies to speak out, to share their stories, and teach those present about the harsh realities Chicago’s homeless population is facing today. These discussions were followed by a march to the CHA office, complete with chants demanding that the CHA lease the thousands of vacant units immediately and that the units remain as public housing.