Organized by the Re-Entry Project, 135 ex-offenders announce plans to apply for CHA housing

By the end of the morning, 132 ex-offenders had signed their intent to apply to the Chicago Housing Authority (Photo by Hannah Willage)
By the end of the morning, 135 ex-offenders had signed their intent to apply to the Chicago Housing Authority (Photo by Hannah Willage)

More than 130 formerly incarcerated people rallied at Chicago City Hall today with a simple message: We changed our lives, but to stay on the right path we have the right to access public housing.

The rally and march, organized by the Re-Entry Project at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), coincided with the Chicago Housing Authority opening its waitlists to online applications for all public housing and Housing Choice Vouchers (formerly Section 8). Partnering with CCH were St. Leonard’s Ministries and the Safer Foundation. 

“It is an education process,” said Christophe Collins, a Re-Entry Project leader. “We need to educate ex-offenders that they have the right to sign up for (Housing Choice Vouchers). We paid our debt to society.”

The perception in the community for many years has been that people with criminal backgrounds cannot apply for public housing. In fact, everyone’s circumstances should be considered individually and there are many people who can be admitted despite their record.

Formerly incarcerated leaders told their stories at the rally. Gathered outside Mayor Emanuel’s fifth floor office, they thanked the mayor for announcing support last March for a CHA pilot program proposed by the Re-Entry Project. If adopted by the CHA Board, it would allow ex-offenders recommended by select service providers, including St. Leonard’s, to move in with family members living in CHA housing.

“My children were taken away when I was a young girl because I did not have housing. My life was shattered after that,” said Sonovia Petty, a long-time leader of CCH’s Re-Entry Project. “I began participating in criminal activity in order to survive.” Sonovia was released more than five years, but still struggles to maintain market-rate housing for herself and her two sons.

Following the rally, the group marched peacefully to the CHA headquarters, 60 E. Van Buren, where they delivered a poster signed by 135 people, saying, “Yes, I turned my life around and I am applying for CHA housing.”

As a delegation went in, the group chanted, “I want to stay free, give me a Section 8 key.”

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless will host a waitlist sign-up event on Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014, from 9 a.m. to 12 noon, at St. Leonard’s Michael Barlow Center, 2120 W. Warren Blvd.

– Julie Dworkin, Director of Policy