Reporting on Recommendations for the Chicago Housing Authority

by Lauren Goldstein
JCUA intern

The Chicago public housing residents’ Central Advisory Council (CAC) recently published their recommendations to the Chicago Housing Authority. These recommendations shed light on systemic problems, and the need soar need for resident voices in the discussion about the future of public housing. JCUA’s Lauren Goldstein gives some background and explains the five main recommendations.

Demolition at Cabrini Green

Demolition at Cabrini Green

On November 30, 2012, a vast, diverse, and energetic crowd came together at the University of Illinois at Chicago Student Center to bear witness to an incredibly powerful presentation of a hopeful plan created by the Chicago public housing residents’ Central Advisory Council (CAC).

The CAC is a tenant organization recognized by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development that serves to represent public housing residents and provide resident input into the CHA’s policies via the participation of fourteen Local Advisory Council offices and seven mixed income communities.

The CAC presented their “Strategies and Recommendations Report,” which is a thorough set of recommendations for the Chicago Housing Authority to consider when moving forward with the Plan for Transformation 2.0.

This innovative report (which can be accessed here) was prepared by Lucas Greene Associates, LLC in partnership with Chicago Jobs Council, Heather D. Parish, Prim Lawrence Group, UIC Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement, and We The People Media, but it was really made possible by the strong, persistent, enduring, and hardworking residents of the CHA who tirelessly work to have their voices heard, their needs represented and met, and their families, friends, and neighbors given the rights they deserve as human beings and fellow residents of Chicago.

This moment marked a point in history that cannot be forgotten: the CHA asked for the CAC to make a plan, and make a plan they did – the ever-powerful CHA has been informed that it is time they take a reactive position; it is time they respond to the proactive nature of the residents of the CHA, and it is time they are held accountable for the very people that they exist to serve. This moment served as a bit of advice to the CHA from the residents – the day has come to refocus on the CHA’s initial mission – to provide housing for low income families in the city of Chicago – and to reformulate action so as to uphold this mission.

Following a historical tour through the history of public housing redevelopment in Chicago since the early days of the Plan for Transformation in the 1990s, a panel presented the CAC report. The panel, consisting of past and current residents of CHA developments and current LAC presidents from across the city, provided penetrating insight into their positions on the Plan for Transformation 2.0, and presented the six categories about which the CAC has made recommendations.

Recommendations were made regarding: (1) plans for redevelopment and preservation, (2) housing reform and program operations, (3) funding and choice neighborhoods, (4) HUD Section 3 compliance and leveraging Section 3 requirements to create Resident job opportunities, (5) Resident services, workforce development, and education, and (6) CHA internal and external communications.

Recommendations include but are certainly not limited to the following.

Recommendation: Increasing number of larger family units

There is an insufficient supply of three or more bedroom units for larger families. Mixed income developments currently being constructed tend to include mainly one and two bedroom units. However, many of the families displaced by the demolition of the high rise public housing buildings in Chicago require three and four bedroom units to accommodate their families.

According to panelist Carol Steel, Lathrop Homes and Altgeld Gardens have larger units, which begs question of why the CHA plans to demolish them when they could revitalize them and house Chicago’s larger families. Chicago is experiencing a real affordable housing shortage. As Carol Steel stated, this is unacceptable in a city that constructs new sports stadiums before demolishing old ones, but continues to demolish public housing before building new housing.

Recommendation: Revisiting the “One Strike Law”

The CHA has a policy – known as the “One Strike Law” – which states that if the leaseholder or member of the leaseholder’s family commits a crime, no matter how minor, they are summonsed immediately to the eviction court. The CAC report recommends revisiting this policy, which is currently implemented inconsistently throughout the Chicago Housing Authority.

According to the CAC’s report, the Chicago Reporter found that the One Strike policy has been levied disproportionately, with the most cases occurring in the three wards seeing the most rapid gentrification efforts. Further, the majority of One Strike cases in the last six years do not involve the primary leaseholder for a unit. Finally, over half of the cases brought forth in the last six years were found not guilty and were subsequently thrown out.

Recommendation: Revising gender residential requirements

Revise the policy that currently requires two residents per bedroom regardless of the residents’ gender. It is the CAC’s recommendation that separate bedrooms should be allocated for people of the opposite sex, except for children under the age of five or those in a spousal relationship. The CAC also recommends that separate bedrooms be allocated for children with a significant (8+ years) age gap.

Recommendation: Enforcing HUD Section 3 requirements

There is currently a policy requiring all entities receiving financial assistance from HUD to provide job training, employment, and contract opportunities to low income residents in projects in their neighborhoods (this is known as HUD Section 3 requirements).

The CAC report asserts that it is very important to develop strategies aimed at ensuring that the CHA properties are in compliance with these requirements. These strategies should include an established plan to hire residents for jobs at the CHA, and a priority for hiring Section 3 residents for job opportunities by vendors and contractors.

In January 2012, the HUD Section 3 Letter of Findings of Noncompliance stated that the CHA was not in compliance with requirements related to internal hiring practices, the CHA was not in compliance with requirements regarding contracting activities, the CHA did not properly inform Section 3 businesses about contracting opportunities, and the CHA did not have a method to verify businesses given Section 3 status.

Recommendation: Improving communication with residents

One of the most important recommendations made at this presentation is the dire need for improved communication between residents and the CHA. The CHA needs to communicate with the residents what their plans are, and start listening to the residents. The residents are our neighbors, our friends, our family, our teachers, and our students – they are living, breathing, human beings, and deserve to finally be treated as such.

More recommendations

The many, many other strategies and recommendations that have been carefully put forward can be found here.

The days of exploiting the residents of the CHA to make an extra dollar must come to an end, and the public perception of our fellow Chicagoans living in public housing needs to change. Recognizing that our city will never be at its best until all of its residents are valued equally and allotted the same human rights everybody deserves, is the vital next step for Chicago. In order for that to happen, the residents, those impacted on a day-to-day basis by the policies and procedures of the CHA, need to be heard. After all, as panelist Francine Washington says, it is the residents that possess the PhDs in the area of public housing: “Public Housing Degrees!”

As the CHA moves forward with the Plan for Transformation 2.0, the CAC remains hopeful that this report will be taken into consideration. CHA spokeswoman Wendy Parks told the crowd that the CHA and CHA chief Charles Woodyard look forward to working closely with the CAC to insure that the recommendations are considered. With that in mind, it is essential that we do not forget that this battle is far from over, and victory is not yet guaranteed.

The residents of the CHA will continue to fight for the rights they deserve. JCUA, our members, and allies will stand by them as members of the Chicago Housing Initiative to ensure that our friends find peace, harmony, and victory in winning the rights they deserve.

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