Chicago Defender: Legacy of Inequitable Housing Access–How a Black Family’s Story Echoes Today’s Fight

A Chicago Defender article from 1946 that chronicles the Hemmons family becoming unhoused.

By Tacuma Roeback, Chicago Defender Managing Editor

Thanks to the efforts of Carl Hansberry and later the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., James Bevel, and Al Raby-led Chicago Freedom Movement, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was ratified, and restrictive covenants were outlawed.  What Chicago’s unhoused population and those on the verge of losing their homes face today is similar to what the Hemmons family endured back in 1946. But politics and entrenched segregation by race and class do the work restrictive covenants once did.

Moreover, organizations that advocate for the homeless and affordable housing argue that Chicago residents recently had an opportunity to vote for a transfer tax known as Bring Chicago Home that would’ve helped to change the fortunes of thousands of unhoused persons and those on the verge of losing their homes. 

Instead, the March 19 ballot measure was soundly defeated. 

With that setback, a familiar theme prevailed, one that governed the lives of families like the Hemmons and thousands of others, especially those who were Black and poor. 

“The powers that be have always pushed back on efforts to make access to housing more just because it undermines their profits and their power,” said Douglas Schenkelberg, executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. “And so the loss of the referendum question (Bring Chicago Home) is yet another example of the status quo working to maintain the status quo.”

Bring Chicago Home sought to help two groups: people already unhoused and in need of shelter and those on the verge of losing their homes. 

According to proponents, BCH would have incrementally raised the city’s real estate transfer tax on properties valued at more than $1 million. The transfer tax would have generated $100 million yearly for mental health services, job training and educational opportunities for the unhoused. Schenkelberg said BCH monies would have funded two large-scale solutions that would effectively address homelessness in the city.  

For Schenkelberg and many who work on behalf of the unhoused in Chicago, the great dilemma is knowing that programs that can effectively address homelessness exist but that there isn’t a sustainable funding stream to address large-scale homelessness in the city.  

“Are we investing funding at scale in these proven solutions that we can have a measurable impact on the problem?” Schenkelberg said. 

As for the business and real estate interests that opposed BCH, Schenkelberg poses this challenge: 

“You’ve said multiple times throughout the campaign and after election day that you think addressing homelessness is a very important issue, that it’s something we have to tackle in the city of Chicago,” he said. 

“So how are you going to step up in a way that’s meaningful and has a measurable impact on the 68,000 people experiencing homelessness in Chicago? How will you show up differently than you’ve shown up before Bring Chicago Home?” 

This time around, the fight still centers around BCH, which supporters contend is not dead. 

They vow not to give up.

They believe they have a measure that could disrupt a persistent narrative and resolve a problem that has impacted Black people the most. 

“There were 68,000 people experiencing homelessness before Election Day, and there are 68,000 people experiencing homelessness after it, so one election doesn’t change our course over the long term,” said Schenkelberg. 

“The work goes on, and we only honor the people who have fought for this for years by continuing to do the work.”

CCH’s Post-Election Statement as a Member of Bring Chicago Home

Group of people in front of city hall hold a sign in support of Bring Chicago Home campaign

Sharing and building power is how we address homelessness in Chicago.

In 2017, a group of CCH’s grassroots leaders with lived experience of homelessness first developed the idea of what became Bring Chicago Home. Since that first day, we have collectively fought for the revenue we need to provide the permanent housing and services the people experiencing homelessness in Chicago need. 

We spent years building a broad coalition made up of people with lived experience of homelessness, union members, faith leaders, social service providers, community organizations, and grassroots volunteers. The opposition tried to intimidate, misinform, and outspend us, but we always had the will and the power of the people on our side. 

The March 19th election results did not end the fight. Instead, they amplify our commitment to finding solutions for housing insecurity and addressing homelessness.  

Despite this obvious setback, we continue to stay focused on what matters most: the building of a long-term movement for housing justice, with, for, and by the 68,000 Chicagoans experiencing homelessness in one of the richest cities in the world. We invite all who share this vision to join us for the next chapter. The fight for housing justice continues because housing is a human right. 

Tribune: Bring Chicago Home–What voters need to know about the referendum

A group of protestors holds up a banner saying "Bring Chicago Home."

By Alice Yin and A.D. Quig

Since 2018, a coalition of homeless advocacy organizations, labor unions and progressive politicians has been pushing the city to designate a special revenue stream for Chicago’s homeless population. Christening themselves as the Bring Chicago Home campaign, they argue the city must address its dearth of affordable housing by raising the one-time tax on property sales.

On Tuesday evening, polls will close in the March primary election in which Chicago voters will decide the fate of a yearslong grassroots campaign to raise taxes for a fund to address homelessness, also known as Bring Chicago Home. Some Chicagoans have already cast their ballots early.

CCH is a proud member of the Bring Chicago Home coalition.

Want to help win Bring Chicago Home on March 19? Here’s how to vote if you are experiencing homelessness 

A group of protestors holds up a banner saying "Bring Chicago Home."

The Importance of Voting 

This upcoming election holds a special significance for Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. In addition to voting on key races at local and national levels, at the end of the ballot, you will find a referendum question – known as Bring Chicago Home or Ballot Question One – which would give the city the authority to restructure the city’s real estate transfer tax (the one-time tax paid when a property is bought) so that anyone buying a property for under $1 million would pay a lesser rate, and anyone buying a property for over $1 million would pay a marginally higher rate. All the new funds from the real estate transfer tax would be legally dedicated toward affordable housing and supportive services to prevent homelessness. 

This moment has been years in the making. After years of organizing to create a dedicated stream of funding to address homelessness by amending the real estate transfer tax, the Bring Chicago Home coalition – convened by Chicago Coalition for the Homeless – successfully lobbied City Council to put a referendum question to authorize the restructuring of the real estate transfer tax on the ballot. The ballot question is a necessary legal step to pass an ordinance in City Council to implement Bring Chicago Home’s proposal.  

Despite an initial court ruling suppressing the vote on the ballot, on March 6th that decision was overturned. This means that on March 19th – you will have the opportunity to vote on a proposal that would dramatically shift how Chicago addresses its housing and homelessness crisis. You have an opportunity to help Bring Chicago Home by voting YES on Ballot Question One. 

A Black woman in her 20s sits at a table with paper in front of her.
Evie, a volunteer with the Bring Chicago Home campaign, helps out at a CCH West Side Canvass on February 3, 2024.

Voting While Experiencing Homelessness 

All people experiencing homelessness  whether they are street-based, living in shelters, or doubled-up in the homes of others  have the right to vote. This right is protected by state and federal laws, including the 2013 Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless Act

You can check online to see if you are registered here

You can register to vote at an Early Voting Site OR on Election Day! 

Any Illinois resident ages 18 or older can register to vote on Election Day at the precinct polling place assigned to their residential mailing address. Chicago residents can also register at the Loop Super Site located downtown. 

You are required to bring two (2) forms of identification (ID) when registering to vote on-site, including one that shows proof of residence or a mailing address. Acceptable forms of ID include mail postmarked to the applicant; an Illinois driver’s license or state ID card; a municipal ID card (for example, the Chicago CityKey); an employee or student ID; Social Security card; birth certificate; credit card; valid U.S. passport; and lease or rental contract. 

Illinois residents who are homeless have the right to vote in all local, state, and national elections, including the upcoming Primary Election on March 19th. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Illinois permits residents to vote early and request to vote by mail without providing an excuse or reason for this request. Also, Illinois residents can vote on Election Day even if they are not yet registered to vote. 

As one form of ID, a person experiencing homelessness can provide a letter from a drop-in center, shelter, or the person in whose home they are living doubled-up. The letter must confirm that the named person has permission to use the address to register to vote.

To register to vote, you must be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old on or before Election Day, and not claim the right to vote elsewhere. 

You cannot vote if you are currently incarcerated for a conviction. But, if you are in pre-trial detention and have not been convicted, you remain eligible to vote. Learn more about  how to vote in pre-trial detention. 

A crowd of protestors stands in an intersection with a banner reading "Bring Chicago Home."

When is ID needed and not needed to vote?  

Identification is not necessary if the person experiencing homelessness has already registered to vote at the polling place; the signature they provide matches the one on file; and an election judge does not challenge the person’s right to vote. 

But identification is necessary in these situations: 

  • They registered by mail and did not include the Illinois ID/driver’s license number or Social Security number. 
  • An election judge challenges the person’s right to vote. Please note: A common reason for challenging a person’s right to vote occurs after the Board of Elections has sent mail to verify a voter’s mailing address, but the mail was returned. 
  • The individual is registering to vote on-site (see above) 

If a voter needs to show ID but is unable to do so, they may cast a provisional ballot. For that provisional ballot to be counted, the voter must present ID within seven (7) days of the election to the Board of Elections. 

Voting after a recent move, whether homeless or housed 

If you moved within the same precinct within 27 days of the election, you can vote a full ballot by signing an affidavit. 

If you moved outside of your precinct more than 30 days before the election and did not register in your new precinct, you may grace-period update your registration through Election Day, and then grace-period vote. 

If you moved outside of your precinct less than 30 days before the election, but still live in Illinois and did not transfer your registration, you may grace-period update your registration to your new address through Election Day and grace-period vote. Or, you can vote a full ballot in your old polling place after completing an affidavit. 

For Election Day assistance, call these legal help desks: 

  • Chicago Board of Elections, (312) 269-7870 
  • Cook County Clerk Karen A. Yarbrough office, (312) 603-0236 
  • Illinois State Board of Elections has phone numbers in Chicago at (312) 814-6440, and in Springfield at (217) 782-4141. Operators will be standing by until 11 p.m. in Chicago and until 12 midnight in Springfield. 
A group of protestors stands at an intersection under a green traffic light. One protestor's sign reads "Love Your Neighbor."
Bring Chicago Home coalition members rally outside Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s home on December 19, 2022.

By Niya K. Kelly, Director of State Legislative Policy, Equity and Transformation 

Sun-Times: Housing loss, rising rents, evictions: How Chicago’s homelessness problem evolved

A modern apartment complex with gray walls.

By Alden Loury, Mar 9, 2024

 A WBEZ analysis of Zillow rental data showed the average rent in Cook County rose by 25% from January 2021 to March 2023 — four times more than the 6% increase during an equivalent length of time before the pandemic. An inadequate supply of housing, rising rents and more evictions all contribute to the homelessness crisis.

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless routinely reminds us of the tens of thousands of people who simply can’t afford what it costs in Chicago to put a roof over their heads — so they double-up with others. It’s not about drug abuse, mental illness or similar issues that make some people less sympathetic to needs of the unhoused.

On March 19, Chicagoans will vote on the Bring Chicago Home proposal to restructure the Real Estate Transfer Tax to create a dedicated revenue stream for Chicagoans experiencing homelessness. CCH is a proud coalition member of Bring Chicago Home.

ABC7: Public safety concerns around homelessness in Chicago as crisis grows

By Chuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel, Tom Jones, Maggie Green and Adriana Aguilar on Thursday, February 15, 2024

A growing number of people are living in Chicago without stable housing. An estimated 68,000 Chicagoans are experiencing homelessness according to a new report. That’s equal the population of Skokie.

This recent report from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless estimates more than 68,000 are without stable housing here, an increase of 4.5% from the year before.

The city’s official homelessness count only includes people living in shelters or on the streets.

“How do you generate the revenue that you need in order to meet some of these needs that continue to exist?” said U.S. Rep. Davis.

The Bring Chicago Home initiative aims to do just that. If passed next month by voters, the Real Estate Transfer Tax would be raised for high-end properties to create an affordable housing fund for the homeless.

CCH is proud to be a coalition supporter of Bring Chicago Home.

WBEZ: Chicago’s elections board plans to appeal a ruling that invalidates tax referendum

By Tessa Weinberg, Feb 27, 2024

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners decided Tuesday it will appeal a ruling invalidating a referendum question known as Bring Chicago Home. The proposal is one of Mayor Brandon Johnson’s top priorities and has been a longtime goal of progressive organizers.

“People can still go out and vote for the referendum. The referendum is still on the ballot. No one should stop voting for the referendum just because of (the judge’s) order,” said Ed Mullen, an election attorney representing the Bring Chicago Home campaign.

WTTW: Program Tries To Reach Homeless ‘Where They’re At’ — On CTA Trains

By Rachel Hinton — Block Club Chicago | Nick Blumberg on February 19, 2024

In the first nine months of 2023, outreach workers had more than 5,000 interactions with people using CTA trains as shelter. Many interactions ended with people indicating they didn’t want to talk further.

The program “got the ball rolling in the right direction,” said Ali Simmons, a senior case and outreach worker in the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless’ Law Project.

But he cautioned that addressing homelessness more broadly is “definitely going to take a lot more outreach, primarily because of the … magnitude of the problem.” The nonprofit Chicago Coalition for the Homeless puts the number over 68,000. That includes people who are “doubled up,” living in the homes of family or friends.

Simmons’ organization, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, is leading the effort to pass the ballot initiative Bring Chicago Home. Without more funds dedicated to addressing homelessness, “it’s like we’re going through the same thing each and every year,” Simmons said.

Tribune: Illinois should protect tenants, property owners from harms of ‘crime-free’ housing laws

By Jenna Prochaska, February 23, 2024

After examining the serious harms and civil rights threats posed by CFNOs, I have argued that state governments need to be a part of the solution. Responding to these ordinances with a city-by-city approach leaves too many tenants vulnerable. Each challenge may require years of investigation, advocacy and litigation. By the time the issues are addressed in one community, similar problems have arisen in neighboring communities that have passed their own version of a CFNO. One state-level advocate describes the effort to respond to harmful CFNOs on tenants in this way as like playing “Whac-a-Mole.”

States are particularly well situated to employ their broad legislative and enforcement powers to combat the harms caused by CFNOs. California recently enacted a law aimed at doing just that.

Illinois now has the chance to do the same by passing the Community Safety through Stable Homes Act. This bill is a critical step toward protecting tenants in our state who have suffered the effects of these dangerous ordinances for too long.

Now is the time for the Illinois legislature to act — before more harm is caused to tenants and property owners throughout the state.

WTTW: With Ballot Decision Looming, Chicago Homeless Advocates Push for Support and Funding

Mayor Brandon Johnson and other BCH supporters celebrate together inside Chicago City Hall.

By Andrea Guthmann, February 19, 2024 

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless estimates more than 68,000 people in Chicago are experiencing homelessness. That higher number includes people who are doubled up, or temporarily living in someone else’s home, something the federal data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development does not include. Chicago voters are gearing up for a momentous decision on how to address homeless. On March 19, a question will be on the ballot asking whether to increase taxes on sales of high-end homes and commercial properties to help fund homelessness prevention.

“Not only are the homeless disproportionately people of color, but there are 20,000 CPS students impacted by homelessness,” says Carol Sharp, president and CEO of The Night Ministry. “Using that real estate transfer tax as an option to ensure that those who are purchasing homes over a million dollars are able to contribute to building a budget around solving homelessness is vitally important.”

CCH is a proud coalition supporter of Bring Chicago Home.