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LCBH, working with a host of other housing advocates throughout Cook County, is supporting an amendment to the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance (CCHRO) making it illegal to discriminate against Housing Choice Voucher holders.
CCHRO currently protects people from discrimination based on their source of income but exempts those with Housing Choice Vouchers from protection. This allows landlords and other housing providers to refuse renting to otherwise qualified individuals and families solely because their rent would be subsidized. Source of Income protection in the CCHRO explicitly excludes voucher holders, thus the proposed amendment is to eliminate that exclusion.
The Housing Choice Voucher program within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) assists very low- income families, the elderly, and the disabled with affording decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. Housing assistance is provided on behalf of individuals or families (defined as having children present in the home) and participants are able to find their own housing in the private market, including single-family homes, townhouses and apartments. In Cook County, the program is administered by the Housing Authority of Cook County and serves over 13,000 families.
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.
1. A landlord doesn’t return a voice mail from an African-American applicant interested in renting an apartment, but does call a white applicant back.
2. A property manager tells a family with children that they can’t rent the only available apartment because it is on the third floor with a balcony and that would be dangerous for their young children.
3. A veteran in a wheelchair is told that he can’t rent an available apartment in a four-flat because there are stairs and no ramp.
Discrimination? Yes, no, or maybe?
Scenarios like this are offered in trainings on housing discrimination laws, provided throughout Chicago by the Fair Housing Education Consortium (FHEC), a project funded by the Department of Housing and Economic Development.
Now completing its fourth year, FHEC has completed 140 trainings, reaching 500-600 people annually throughout the city. Information is given on who and what is protected under city state and federal fair housing laws. Attendees include community organizations, immigrant groups, landlords and tenants alike.
The formation of the consortium was initiated by LCBH, which continues to coordinate the project. Other member agencies include Access Living, Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the John Marshall Fair Housing Legal Support Center.