Chicago advocates demanded funds for affordable housing from $1.9 billion meant for pandemic relief amid potential spike in homelessness.
On May 4, Bring Chicago Home and the Right to Recovery Coalitions convened over 150 people via Zoom to demand the city take the necessary next steps to address the housing crisis that exists in Chicago. “Before COVID-19, 77,000 Chicagoans were already experiencing homelessness on the streets, in shelters or doubling-up,” said Jasmine Crawford, shelter manager with Franciscan Outreach, “and now the situation is even worse.”
The groups pointed to a survey done by the Census Bureau this past March, which showed how over 400,000 Chicagoland households expressed slight or no confidence in their ability to pay next month’s rent. In addition, calls to Chicago’s Homelessness Prevention Call Center increased by as much as 300% compared to previous years.
Dr. Sabina Wong, a member of the Chicago Homelessness and Health Response Group for Equity (CHHRGE), has been on the frontlines and has seen how an investment in housing is needed to create a more equitable city. “When we first started seeing COVID outbreaks in the shelters, we banded together and formed a group of over 100 medical providers, shelter providers, supporting initiatives and housing advocates to address the health needs of homeless individuals living in shelters and encampments. I’m happy to say we’ve been fairly successful in mitigating the risk of COVID, but the truth is – it’s not enough.”
Although the city has received funding earmarked for housing from the CARES Act and will receive additional funds from the American Rescue Plan, advocates pointed out that this funding is not nearly sufficient to address the problem. A significant portion of the $1.9 billion in discretionary funds that Chicago is receiving from the American Rescue Plan must be spent on long-term, affordable housing.
Elizabeth Maldonado, a grassroots member with Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, was provided a 12-month housing voucher with federal stimulus homelessness funds. However, when that contract ends, Elizabeth, who only makes $800 a month from disability and SSI, will be expected to pay $1,500 a month. “How can I pay that much money if I don’t even make that much? We will have no choice but to return to a shelter,” Elizabeth shared.
Advocates also called on the administration to work with them on long-term strategies. The Bring Chicago Home campaign proposes to bring in more city revenue by raising the Real Estate Transfer Tax on properties over $1 million and dedicate a portion of the new revenue to permanent housing solutions for people living on the streets, in shelters or doubled-up.
“Taking action to invest in affordable housing helps all Chicagoans. In gentrifying communities, it ensures that people can stay in their homes. In other communities that have been neglected for too long, it can help revitalize neighborhoods and support long-time residents. These are critical steps for a more equitable city,” said Lamont Burnett, a member with ONE Northside.
The Bring Chicago Home and Right to Recovery Coalitions both plan to introduce legislation that will continue to provide concrete proposals to address the housing and homelessness crisis in our city. City Council has also blocked attempts by advocates to restructure the Real Estate Transfer Tax and dedicate a portion of the increase in revenue to permanent, supportive housing. Even though the Mayor and City Council members have acknowledged the importance of housing in creating a more equitable city, there is no plan in place to ensure the availability of housing for the most vulnerable.
Studies have shown that permanent, supportive housing is the most effective model to keep people housed. Other models, such as rapid rehousing, only reinforce a traumatizing cycle for the most vulnerable and result in an ineffective use of city resources. Roxanne Smith, a member of Communities United, summed it up well, “we cannot keep kicking the can down the road. The city has real opportunities to help the most vulnerable Chicagoans recover from the pandemic and decades of disinvestment in housing for the most vulnerable. The time to act is now – we demand better.”
Bring Chicago Home (BCH) is a campaign led by the Chicago Coalition for the homeless, gathering a coalition of people experiencing homelessness and community, policy, and direct-service organizations dedicated to addressing homelessness in Chicago.
CCH was proud to host We Demand Better in partnership with Bring Chicago Home, Right to Recovery, Communities United, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA), ONE Northside, The Rebirth of Greater Roseland, and United Working Families.