Chicago Councilor Waits 29 Years for Housing Assistance, Takes Legislative Action for Change

At 19, Jeanette Taylor was a single mother who raised three children in a one-bedroom apartment she shared with her mother, brother, sister and her niece. She knew they needed their own space, and quickly, so she turned to the Chicago Housing Authority for… housing assistance

She was on the waiting list for 29 years.

Taylor, now a Chicago councilor, said her story is indicative of the housing crisis people still face, so she is taking legislative action to address the housing crisis and the system that stands in the way of change.

“I paid taxes, I worked, I volunteered at the kids’ school,” Taylor told ABC News. “I did what they tell you to do and when I reached out to the institutions and my city to help me, I didn’t get the help I needed.”

Accessibility of affordable housing for low-income households is a problem plaguing the nation, Taylor said.

In Chicago, before the COVID-19 outbreak, the Chicago Coalition for Homelessness reported that “an estimated 58,273 people” were homeless in 2019. In one night alone, more than 326,000 people were protected homelessness in the United States, according to href=” https://www.huduser.gov/portal/sites/default/files/pdf/2021-AHAR-Part-1.pdf”>the 2021 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress.

PHOTO: Councilor Jeanette Taylor is pictured with Chicago youth attending the 20th Ward's annual youth forum.

Councilor Jeanette Taylor is pictured with Chicago youth attending the 20th Ward’s annual youth forum.

Courtesy Councilor Jeanette Taylor

Having difficulty navigating the housing system in her home city, she made it her priority when she took office in 2019 to contact the Chicago Housing Authority to address the city’s concerns. high rates of homelessness

With decades-long waiting lists and the livelihoods of thousands of families at stake in exchanging housing vouchers, Taylor knew the city lacked a substantial commitment to change.

“We know that sending them to shelters and temporary housing is terrible,” Taylor said. “We got a real chance to talk about how we’re helping the homeless people in the city.”

The Chicago Department of Housing director of public affairs, Eugenia Orr, told ABC News that the city is taking steps to combat the problem.

Orr said the Program City lots for working families (CL4WF) is an effort to promote the development of affordable housing on vacant lots in the Chicago area. In addition, the program works to “encourage home builders” and provide vacant lots to affordable housing developers.

“Homes should be made available to qualified buyers with incomes up to 140% of the region’s median income,” Orr said.

While the program is repurposing the land, the link between vacant buildings and accessibility for low-income households is part of Taylor’s proposed Responsible Housing and Transparency Regulation

Taylor introduced the ordinance in April this year to centralize efforts to accommodate the homeless and needy. Other key features of the regulation include prioritizing the displaced and the disabled, centralizing leasing, a single waiting list, “agency coordination” between all Chicago-based public health and housing institutions, and a requirement for every affordable housing unit to be “97 % to achieve and maintain occupancy.”

PHOTO: Councilor Jeanette Taylor (left) is pictured with her mother and one of her children.

Councilor Jeanette Taylor (left) is pictured with her mother and one of her children.

Courtesy Councilor Jeanette Taylor

By consolidating the separate affordable housing application platforms created by different agencies, Taylor said the regulation aims to simplify the process so that more people and families can get safe housing in a reasonable amount of time.

Taylor, who shared her story last month about finally making it to the top of the housing waiting list, said she did so to spark a wider discussion on the national issue of affordable housing accessibility.

“The system should be ashamed of itself, not me,” Taylor said.

Shortly after Taylor’s post went viral, the CHA released a statement on news reports highlighting their long wait times.

“CHA’s waiting lists for social housing and project-based vouchers are always open and have wait times that range from as little as six months to as much as 25 years,” the CHA said in a statement that extends its system for recycling the 47,000 vouchers the federal government has given to the CHA. grants.

“The allocated number has not increased in years,” the CHA said. “A voucher only becomes available to a new family on the waiting list if it is no longer used by an existing voucher holder.”

Taylor said she knows about the wait times families go through. When she finally got a call that they had found her an apartment, they said her son couldn’t live there because he had just graduated and turned 18.

“After completing my application, the young lady told me I couldn’t get it on my lease,” Taylor said. “She was like, ‘If we find him in your unit, you’ll lose your CHA housing.'”

Taylor had to either go back on the waiting list or move without her son.

“I’ll be homeless before I put my 18-year-old son out,” Taylor said.

As the years passed, Taylor said she received a letter assuring her that her number was getting closer to the point of selection. Finally, after meeting with the head of the 2019 Chicago Housing Authority, Taylor said she received a letter on May 20 informing her that she had made it to the top of the waiting list and could begin the application process.

“I was just sitting on the bed,” Taylor said. “The boy who handed me the post is the boy I just had when I applied for this, he’s going to be 29.”

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development reports that there are more than 970,000 households in social housing across the country, a number that fluctuates daily.

For many families, like Taylor’s, she said many feel that “there is no other choice” except to just keep fighting.

According to a 2021 census conducted by HUD, 122,849 African Americans have experienced sheltered homelessness compared to 3,055 Asians, 6,460 Indians/Alaska Natives, 3,785 Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islanders and 113,294 Whites.

By taking the opportunity to solve a persistent housing problem in her neighborhood, she hopes the federal government can transparently address the housing crisis and racial housing inequalities.

“Black women, you figure it out, and I had to,” Taylor said.

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