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Testimony for the Chicago City Council Housing Committee

  ·  Savannah Clement

This testimony was submitted February 17, 2016 to the Chicago City Council’s Housing Committee by the Forum's Housing Manager Savannah Clement. As supporters of the Keeping the Promise Ordinance, the Forum believes the proposed ordinance would increase access for Latinos to CHA programs and resources, and would make CHA more transparent and accountable.  

The Latino Policy Forum is one of the leading organizations in the Chicago region that fosters Latino participation in all levels of public decision-making. The Forum seeks to inform, influence, and lead the public policy debate in the areas of early education, housing, immigration and civic advancement. It does so in partnership with Latino and other civic leaders in order to promote the well-being of the Latino community and society as a whole.

I am here today, on behalf of the Latino Policy Forum and its Housing Acuerdo, to speak to some of the challenges Latinos are facing here in Chicago with regard to accessing public housing through the Chicago Housing Authority (“CHA” hereinafter). The Latino Policy Forum publicly endorses the passing of the Keeping the Promise Ordinance. This ordinance will help to ensure there is increased access and participation for Latinos in CHA programs, as well as increased accountability and transparency at the CHA.

The Forum and its Housing Acuerdo, a group of 30 Latino-led and Latino-serving community based housing organizations, have been meeting with senior level staff at the CHA for the past five years in order to advocate for greater Latino access and participation in CHA programs. However, a revolving door (five CEOs in four years) in leadership at the CHA has made it very difficult to gain any traction and affect policy changes in a meaningful way. As a result, the Latino Policy Forum supports the passing of the Keeping the Promise Ordinance.

Latino residents make up nearly a third of the City of Chicago population and comprise about a quarter of the income eligible population for CHA programs (25 and 23 percent of the income eligible population for both Public Housing and the Housing Choice Voucher programs respectively). Yet, Latino participation is less than half the rate it could be – hovering at less than ten percent for Public Housing and about nine percent for Housing Choice Vouchers. Based on U.S. Census data, more than half of Latino households in Chicago are renters and more than half of Latino renters are rent burdened – defined as paying more than 30 percent of their household income towards rent.

Through the Keeping the Promise Ordinance, the Forum believes that Latinos will be able to achieve greater access to CHA programs through increased public housing construction and Housing Choice Voucher utilization. Currently, over 11,000 Latino families are presently sitting on the CHA’s waiting lists. Instead of sitting on the waiting list for several years (which is often the case), these families could be served by the CHA using its immense resources to construct or acquire new affordable housing in Latino communities, either by direct construction of new scattered site housing or through partnerships with non-profit developers who serve the Latino community (Keeping the Promise Ordinance, Section 1.5). The CHA could also serve these families by reaching full utilization of its housing voucher funding. Currently, according to Chicago Housing Initiative’s data analysis, the CHA uses less than 80% of its annual voucher funding, which means that around 10,000 available housing vouchers never reach families that need them. Keeping the Promise requires CHA to reach 97% utilization of its voucher funding within 3 years of the ordinance passing (Keeping the Promise Ordinance, Section 2.0).

The Keeping the Promise Ordinance will promote greater accountability within the CHA when it comes to replacing lost public housing units on a one-for-one basis. This will be particularly important for the Northside public housing development, Lathrop Homes. Lathrop is located in an opportunity area, and has historically housed many Latino families. The development also sits adjacent to several Latino neighborhoods that are rapidly gentrifying such as Logan Square and Avondale. The CHA is currently only committed to delivering 400 of the 925 units at Lathrop Homes onsite. This plan does not account for the remaining 525 offline units. In fact, the CHA has made no written commitment to replace these units on a one-for-one basis. The Keeping the Promise Ordinance will help to ensure that the CHA is accountable to replacing all 525 of those units in or around the Lathrop site (Keeping the Promise Ordinance, Section 1.5).

What’s more, the Keeping the Promise Ordinance will increase transparency at the CHA. The CHA has been acquiring and sitting on an enormous sum of cash, to the tune of $440 million, with very little public housing development in recent years. In a time when there is a dearth of quality affordable housing in the city, the fact that the CHA is sitting on such a large amount of money without rehabilitating or building new public housing units is unconscionable. The Keeping the Promise Ordinance, as a whole, will promote heightened transparency in the CHA’s reporting, spending and decision-making in order to remedy this situation.

Moreover, the Forum believes that the Keeping the Promise Ordinance will promote greater transparency with regard to CHA contracts. Through the Latino Consent Decree (a 10-year court order that mandated the CHA to increase Latino participation and outreach in the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s), the CHA was required to contract with a Latino-serving organization to do outreach in the Latino community. However, over the past 20 years, that contract has been reduced in resources and scope so that today a Latino-specific outreach contract no longer exists. Instead, the CHA has shifted to a diversity outreach contract. While the Forum supports diversity, it is unclear on what the investment will be in the Latino community via the RFP and its subsequent contracts. The dollar amount designated for the diversity outreach RFP has not been disclosed to the public, making it difficult to ascertain what the investment will look like in the community areas named in the RFP. In addition, Hispanic Housing Development Corporation was notified that its CHA property management contract, in effect for 26 years, was going to be terminated as of November 2nd, 2015.  Hispanic Housing has been a primary entry point for public housing in Latino neighborhoods throughout Chicago. Since Hispanic Housing’s contract expired, there are currently no Latino property management companies contracted by the CHA. This makes accessing public housing even more challenging for the Latino community. Therefore, the Forum has advocated for greater transparency in the CHA’s contract decision-making and spending. The Forum hopes that the Keeping the Promise Ordinance will help to achieve this.

Finally, the Forum appreciates the access it has had to current CHA leadership. However, given the multiple transitions in leadership, it is time to put systems in place that create equitable access for all low-income families, as well as increased CHA accountability and transparency to the public it serves.  The Latino Policy Forum fully supports the passing and implementation of the Keeping the Promise Ordinance.

Savannah Clement, Housing Manager

Latino Policy Forum


Posted In: Housing, Affordable Housing