Subsidized Housing: Higher Standards or Impossible Ones?

Couple struggle with housing issues

Do you remember how long your last lease was? A page or two? It probably wasn’t 20+ pages, the typical length of a lease for a resident of subsidized housing in Chicago.

What’s in those lengthy leases? Rules. To qualify for subsidized housing, residents must go through a rigorous background check and application process.

Once approved, residents are asked to sign paperwork agreeing to abide by a comprehensive set of rules. Any violation is grounds for eviction.

Many of the rules that these residents must abide by seem quite reasonable. There are the standard prohibitions on noise and damage. There are bans on criminal conduct, drug use, and gang activity. But other rules seem unnecessarily restrictive, especially to anyone used to the freedom of the private housing market. The following are actual rules enforced in some Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) properties:

  • No sitting on chairs in the courtyard
  • No gathering on sidewalks or in the courtyard
  • No riding bicycles
  • No playing in common areas
  • No climbing trees
  • No using profane language
  • No clutter in the apartment

Section 8 housing voucher holders have their own list of equally stringent rules. They can lose their housing subsidy for missing one appointment with the CHA or for not replacing cracked outlet covers in their apartments. If that isn’t bad enough, the rules don’t just apply to residents – they also apply to “guests.” That means an entire family can be evicted for something that someone else did, and the violation doesn’t even have to occur on the property!

Many of LCBH’s clients have faced eviction due to the impossibly high standards set by CHA. Here are a few of their stories (names have been changed to protect client identities):

Alice Patterson

Alice Patterson is a single mother who suffered kidney failure a few years ago and now undergoes dialysis treatment three times a week. Her 22-year old son, Miles, is a devoted child who visits her weekly to help out around the home.

Alice’s world was turned upside down on New Year’s Eve 2011 when Miles was mistakenly arrested and charged with possession of a handgun while attending a New Year’s Eve party. After a quick criminal trial he was found not guilty, and what was clearly a case of mistaken identity seemed to have been neatly wrapped up.

Not for Alice, however. Even though Miles was found not guilty, and even though the arrest occurred six miles away from Alice’s home, her management company filed an eviction case against her. They accused her of inviting over guests who engaged in criminal activity.

Two LCBH legal interns took this case and represented Ms. Patterson. Through their diligent research and advocacy, they settled the case on very favorable terms and Ms. Patterson was able to stay in her home and keep her subsidy.

Frances Roberts

Frances Roberts is a senior citizen whose mother passed away last fall. In the immediate aftermath of her mother’s death, Frances offered to take in her mother’s pet dog until a permanent home could be found.

Frances’ management company contacted her and asked her to remove the dog from the premises and she complied the very next day. This wasn’t fast enough to appease her landlords who filed an eviction case against her anyway.

Another LCBH legal intern handled Frances’ case and got the case dismissed based on the management company’s mishandling of Frances’ rent checks.

Tara Manning

Tara Manning lives in a CHA building with her two teenage sons. Last summer, one of the building’s security guards accused her older son of smoking marijuana and called the police. Two officers investigated and found that he was innocent. Tara’s 17-year old son, angry about being wrongfully accused of a crime, swore as he was leaving the security guard’s office. One week later, management filed an eviction case against the family for using profane language.

Tara’s son is an honor student at a selective enrollment high school who plans to attend college next year. Tara was very worried about having to move mid-year and disrupt his schooling. With the help of a LCBH pro bono attorney, Tara will be able to stay in her apartment until her son graduates from high school.

As upsetting as these stories may be, remember that these tenants are the lucky ones; they had LCBH volunteers and interns on their side. For each of these stories there are hundreds of others that don’t have a happy ending. You can help! Just a few hours of your time can change a family’s life forever! If you are interested in pro bono and/or internship opportunities with LCBH, please contact Samira Nazem at snazem@lcbh.org