Reentry Committee meets with CHA to propose Housing Choice pilot program

CCH’s Reentry Project organizes and advocates for access to housing for individuals with criminal backgrounds. Last Friday, the Reentry Project Committee had a major breakthrough in our collaboration with the Chicago Housing Authority, during a meeting with its CEO, Charles Woodyard.

From left to right, Bob Dougherty, Michael Peoples, Troy Harden, Pastor Charles Austin, Tony Lawery, Julie Dworkin, Pam Ward, Marie Claire Tran and Rachel Ramirez.

The Reentry Committee proposed a pilot CHA program that would offer a Reentry Provider Housing Certificate. This certificate would allow experienced reentry service providers to recommend individuals with criminal backgrounds for a Housing Choice Voucher. These select individuals would be able to proceed through the application process without barriers based on criminal background. Providers would grant certificates selectively to those who show great dedication to their community reentry process. 

Mr. Woodyard and his staff committed to work with us to craft a more detailed proposal that can be presented to the CHA Central Advisory Council and CHA Board. They also agreed to amend the wording in the letter that CHA sends to potential tenants when they reach the top of its lengthy waiting list. The new language would make it clear that the CHA considers everyone’s individual circumstances, despite criminal background.

This collaboration between CHA, CCH and reentry providers may signal a new day in housing rights for those with criminal backgrounds. In Chicago, individuals with criminal backgrounds have long been restricted from living in public housing, including rejoining their family. Lack of stable housing is the most common reason that people recidivate. Further, 48% of people staying in Chicago’s emergency shelters have a criminal background. Changes to CHA policy would offer a significant opportunity for individuals with criminal backgrounds who deserve a second chance.

We appreciate Mr. Woodyard’s thoughtfulness on this issue and his willingness to consider changes to CHA policy.

The Reentry Committee is grateful to Bob Dougherty, executive director of St. Leonard’s Ministries, and Anthony Lowery, Safer Foundation policy director, for their dedication in helping CCH craft the proposed certificate program. Our meeting was chaired by Pastor Charles Austin, a CCH leader and Reentry Commitee member.

– Rachel Rameriz, Community Organizer