Tackling Housing Discrimination Head-On

Tackling Housing Discrimination Head-On

Leta Young resided in her apartment for five years before the building went into foreclosure, “I was forced to hurry up and get out because the new owners were investors and wanted me out in 30 days. That’s when I sought help.” Soon after the new owners informed Leta that she had to vacate her apartment in 30 days she found Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing.

Patricia Fron, LCBH Building Programs Administrator explains, “We did foreclosure counseling and found that the building was sold through a short sale. We negotiated directly with the new owner to get Leta more time to stay while she searched for new housing. Leta also participated in the Housing Choice Voucher program and we worked with the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) to make sure she did not lose her voucher.”

“Patricia really got the ball rolling and was really there for me,” says Leta. “She listened to my story and told me the things I needed to do. A lot of people were not accepting Housing Choice Vouchers and I was fairly new to the voucher program so I thought I was doing the right thing by being upfront with landlords.” Even with the help of LCBH, 35 out of 45 landlords turned Leta down because of her voucher and it took her months to secure new housing.

“Unfortunately, Leta’s story is not uncommon,” notes Patricia, “tenants utilizing Housing Choice Vouchers often face insurmountable barriers to obtaining housing. Even in Chicago, where voucher holders are protected, renters face continued discrimination by landlords who blatantly refuse to consider voucher holders as potential tenants.”

Complicating Leta’s relocation efforts was the fact that she was also an entrepreneur and ran a licensed daycare business from her home, “A lot of people did not want to rent to me because I was a voucher holder and trying to operate a business in my home.”

“In my nearly seven years of working at LCBH, Leta is one of the most remarkable people I’ve met,” observes John-Paul Beals, Supportive Services Director. “Leta is an extraordinary businesswoman and is well-loved by the parents of the children in her child care center. She is a model of persistence, optimism, tenacity, determination…all while retaining a wonderful spirit of gratitude and joy in the midst of it all.”

Looking back at the challenges she faced, Leta recalls, “LCBH not only represented me in court, they also taught me how to get an apartment with vouchers and they even sent me listings for new houses. I didn’t exactly know how things worked with housing vouchers, like getting extensions. The lawyers helped me to maintain my voucher; they got me extensions so I could actually find a new, you know, a better place.”

Leta faced illegal discrimination as she tried to secure housing, and her story exemplifies the struggles of countless voucher holders throughout the city. The limited housing options for voucher holders—especially those who are African American and Latino—directly contradict the spirit of the Housing Choice Voucher program and its purpose to expand housing options for low-income households. Furthermore, the discrimination faced by voucher holders is often covert racial or familial status discrimination. If the voucher program is to be successful in expanding housing options, stories like Leta’s must not be ignored.