A Section 8 Recipient’s Painful Reality

by Angela Hilton 

When I was a kid growing up in the Robert Taylor Housing Projects, my dream was that one day my family would get a Section 8 and we would be able to move into a nice apartment in a much better neighborhood. It was my mom’s dream too, that someday she would be able to move her family out of the projects.

Long after I grew up and moved out on my own, my mother was finally given the chance to realize at least part of this dream.

The demolition of Robert Taylor meant that after 25 years of living in the projects and raising five kids, she would be given a Section 8 voucher to find a better place to live.

However, the happiness my mom felt when she used her voucher to move into her new apartment, was soon replaced by the painful reality that her Section 8 dream was on the verge of becoming a nightmare.

My mom was content in her new home for almost a year until one day in March, 2001.

It was on that fateful day that she received a letter from her landlord stating that CHAC had declined the rent increase on her apartment because they found the new rent to be “unreasonable.”

The letter stated that she would have to move in a matter of weeks. My mother felt as if she had been betrayed by the Section 8 program. Though she attended all of the mandatory meetings that went along with getting a voucher, she was never told that she could one day find herself in this situation.

After months of delays from CHAC in terms of getting answers as to why her rent increase was declined, my mom told me about her housing problem.

By his time, she only had a few weeks left before she had to vacate her apartment.

Her landlord had given her extra time while CHAC reevaluated her case, but this extended deadline was almost up. I began calling CHAC to inquire about my mom’s situation. My experience with various CHAC employees took me to levels of frustration that I had not felt since living in Robert Taylor and feeling that there was nothing that I could do about the drugs and violence springing up around me.

From my inquiries, I learned that my mom’s case was still under review and that she was basically in a race against the clock. A Housing Specialist at CHAC told me that it is suppose to take 30-60 days to evaluate a rent increase, but that it usually takes longer than that.

So, the question was: Would CHAC reevaluate the rent increase within the time frame they had set for themselves. If so, my mom would have an answer before the move-out date by her landlord and she would be able to avoid the hassle of eviction procedures.

Given the fact that the initial analysis of the rent increase took almost three months, I did not have any faith that CHAC would reevaluate my mom’s case in time unless they felt pressured to do so.

I decided to put my own work on hold and dedicate myself to helping my mom with her housing crisis. I thought it ridiculous that she could be made to move out of her apartment when it was not clear if she really HAD to move. I had no special knowledge of the Section 8 program or housing laws in Chicago. I simply began investigating and calling as many people as I could.

I contacted several people in various offices in CHAC (Client Services, Rent/Market Analysis, the Office of the Executive Director). I also contacted people in CHA, the Chicago HUD office, the HUD office in Washington D.C., along with legal assistance and renters rights groups in Chicago.

After two weeks, over 50 phone calls to CHAC and other agencies, hours of research on the Section 8 program in Chicago and contacting people through the internet, the rent increase on my mother’s apartment was finally reevaluated and approved. My mom and I could both breathe a sigh of relief that she would not be thrown back into the housing race in Chicago.

However, I still wonder about the other Section 8 tenants who lived in my mom’s building and who were not so lucky. Numerous families in my mom’s building were notified that CHAC had declined the rent increase on their apartment. During the beginning of my mom’s ordeal, she witnessed how one woman put her furniture in storage and moved in with family. This woman thought that there was nothing she could do about CHACs decision on her rent increase. The sad part is that this woman probably did not HAVE to move.

After further evaluation, my mother’s rent increase was eventually approved. Why couldn’t this happen for other tenants as well?

This whole situation raises a number of disturbing questions about how CHAC does business. Was it only my persistence in getting answers from CHAC, in getting several additional people involved in this situation, in insisting that CHAC follow procedures and review the rent increase in a timely fashion, in basically becoming a pest to several people throughout the CHAC organization, that eventually led to a positive outcome for my mother? Why did I have to be my moms advocate in this matter? Why wasnt there anyone at CHAC to advocate on her behalf?

What about the families who already moved out of my mom’s building? Will their cases be reevaluated? Will they be able to move back in?

I think we know the answers to these questions. Unless other tenants in similar situations have the time and resources to put towards a fight, or unless they find someone to fight on their behalf, they don’t have a chance against the massive slowness of the bureaucracy at CHAC.

Unfortunately, CHAC has the advantage over Section 8 tenants who may not be able to wage a major battle against a system that appears to be indifferent to their plight and that only responds when the pressure is on.

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