As CHA Wait List Closes, Are Low-Income Families Bridging the Digital Divide?

by Mary C. Piemonte 

A great percentage of Chicagoans have limited or no access to the Internet, according to a study from the University of Illinois at Chicago published last year. The lack of access was worst among low-income people, researchers found.

But at least 210,000 low-income people found ways to apply online for the Chicago Housing Authority’s (CHA) Family Housing Wait List, mostly without the CHA’s or its affiliates’ assistance.

For the first time in more than a decade, the CHA opened the public housing wait list this spring for those 18 years of age or older meeting the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) income guidelines and eligibility guidelines found in CHA’s FY2009 Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy.

In May, CHA announced that registration for the Wait List would be held online at www.CHAwaitlist.org, from June 14 to July 9, 2010, after which 40,000 names would randomly be selected from a lottery pool.

Those who wanted to receive campaign updates via mobile phone texted “INFO” to 75309, or called 311 or 866-7thecha, the CHA’s hotline number for information on the application process, which they provided in English, Chinese, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, Tagalog, Urdu/Hindi and Vietnamese.

Those without their own computers could register online at over 100 assistance sites at offices of elected officials, community groups, and social service agencies as well as at select libraries throughout the city where computers and technical assistance were made available.

CHA reported that on the first day of registration, they received nearly 100,000 online registrations for the housing wait list. By June 23, the CHA reported that it had 165,000 applicants for the wait list. By mid-day on July 9, the last day for registration, more than 210,000 people had registered for the waiting list.
Most of those who registered did so without the help of the agency. RJ asked CHA if the majority of the 210,000 applicants sought the assistance of the CHA or its affiliates, or if they found a way to get online without their help.

“The overwhelming majority of applicants applied online without the assistance of CHA or its affiliates,” CHA spokesperson Matthew Aguilar wrote in a June 13 e-mail.

Residents’ Journal rents office space at a CHA-owned building facility on the South Side, the Charles A. Hayes Family Investment Center, 4859 S. Wabash Ave. The Hayes Center was one of the sites available for people to register, and RJ staff monitored traffic of those who came in to apply. Just a trickle of people came in to use one of the dozens of computers set up in the Hayes Center to apply online.

CHA Details Their Actions in Opening up the Wait List

According to a May 28 e-mail to RJ from Aguilar, the agency was able to open the waiting list because it removed people from its former list. The old list was “cleaned and purged last year of people who were repeatedly non-responsive to CHA’s requests,” wrote the CHA spokesperson.

The current list consisting of 5,000 names was created before they started this campaign to add more names. Those chosen will be eligible for available public housing units at the new mixed-income housing sites, as well as at the rehabilitated traditional family public housing, or scattered-sites, according to the CHA press release announcing the opening of the list. The available units include mixed-income communities managed by the private developers who took part in the Plan for Transformation.

CHA stated in the May e-mail that “Family public housing, scattered sites, and public housing units in mixed-income developments are all leased using CHA’s wait list.”

They added that not all those vying for public housing units in the mixed-income communities need to apply at the on-site management offices owned and run by the private developers.

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One Response to “As CHA Wait List Closes, Are Low-Income Families Bridging the Digital Divide?”

  1. Rusal Villanova Says:

    Please tell me, are the letters out telling us if we got on the list or not? It has been almost 4 weeks since July 9th.

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