Transforming CHA: Senior Only Buildings

by Lorenzia Shelby 

The Chicago Housing Authority is making all of its 58 senior citizen buildings seniors-only by excluding new people with disabilities under the age of 50.

CHA’s Management, Analysis and Planning Department (MAP) wrote a Senior Designated Housing Plan. The overview of this draft plan reads, “The Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) has submitted a one- and five-year plan that calls for the designation of all 58 CHA senior buildings as senior only. The CHA designated 20 buildings as seniors only in 1996 and planned to add 38 buildings as a result of this request.”

“This means that persons under 50 (non seniors) with disabilities will no longer be admitted to seniors-only buildings.

“This does not mean that you will be excluded from public housing. It does mean that you cannot be admitted to a CHA senior building.”

People with disabilities have been living in CHA’s senior citizen buildings for many years. Robert Richards, a long-time resident of the Racine Apartments, was asked about these buildings becoming seniors only. Racine Apartments will become a seniors-only buildings under the CHA plan.

Richards said, “I think that is the way it should be, seniors only, or no one under fifty should be admitted.”

Bea Allen, also a resident of Racine Apartments, said, “Sometimes a person or persons with disabilities, they are a little too young to be living with seniors. From the age of 21 years old to 40 years old, they bring with them a group of undesirables. Some are violent and associate with gangs. People with disabilities of this type shouldn’t be admitted.” Who is eligible for the seniors-only buildings? It is stipulated in the CHA’s draft plan that the seniors-only buildings are open to “elderly applicants and elderly applicants with disabilities 62 years of age and older. If there are no seniors 62 years of age and over, CHA will then house nearly elderly applicants with disabilities between 50 and 61 years of age. The senior-designated buildings will not house anyone below 50 years of age with disabilities.”

Maria Reyes, the manager of the Racine Apartments, said, “I wish CHA would follow through and put their proposal into action. The senior housing buildings have women with children who have applied for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program but nothing has happened. I guess they are still on the waiting list.”

The CHA draft plan continues, “What happens to applicants on the list below 50 years of age with disabilities? Applicants below 50 years of age will not be housed in a senior designated building. However, the applicant will have the right to remain on the waiting list according to their date and time of application. Applicants will be sent a letter of interest advising them of their option to be placed on the waiting list at a family sight or obtain a Section 8 voucher. The applicant will not lose their place on the waiting list provided that their date of application is prior to June 1, 2000.”

The draft continues, “What happens next? If you don’t respond to this letter, your name will remain on the senior site based waiting list. However, when your name reaches the top of the senior-site based waiting list, the private management firm will send a second letter to you in writing advising you of your housing options. If you do not respond to the second letter, your name will be withdrawn from the senior site-based waiting list.”

Bessie Roger, the building president of the Racine Apartments, was asked her thoughts about people with disabilities under 50 not being admitted to the seniors-only buildings.

Roger said, “The building should be seniors only. There’s a generation gap between older and younger people that always causes friction among them.”

Racine Apartments resident Kermit Moore said, “They shouldn’t have changed the seniors building in the first place. The word ‘disability’ is the problem. Just using that word brought in a lot of drug addicts and alcoholics. They were not physically ill. They were just drug abusers.”

Betty Staten resides in the Woodlawn Resident II building, a structure for low-income residents of different ages. She was asked her views about the seniors-only buildings. She said, “I think they should be for seniors only. The people under fifty are still having parties, talking loud and playing loud music on their radios. My building once was a senior only building. I wish it was still that way.”

Robin Jones, a tenant at the Racine Apartments who is under 50, said, “Some seniors are all right. Some are not. I really don’t like it here. I applied for a transfer for family housing and I am still waiting. That was one year and seven months ago. I hope they will do something soon.”

Racine Apartments senior tenant Josefina Torrey said, “I think the buildings should be seniors–only. A few years ago, the Racine Apartments had a lot of young people. With it came a lot of prostitution.” Milta Alegria, also a senior from Racine Apartments, said, “This building should be seniors only because young people create problems.”

From the draft of the CHA plan, residents with disabilities under 50 years of age have the following options:

All lease compliant residents of senior buildings have the right to remain in their current unit. Non-elderly persons with disabilities affected by the designation have the following three (3) options: Remain in the building;

Voluntarily transfer to an accessible unit in CHA’s family or scattered site housing Choose the section 8 housing choice voucher program.

What Services Will Be Provided To Me If I Transfer Or Choose A Section 8 Voucher?

(a) For all residents:

Counseling
Moving assistance
Utility and cable connection paid
Reasonable transfer and moving costs paid;

(b) Residents choosing a Section 8 voucher will receive the following additional services: Security deposit paid

Access loan improvement fund (funds to provide accessibility modifications such as ramps, lifts, grab bars, flashing alarm warning systems, door bells and other accessibility modifications that you might need at your Section 8 residence.

CHA officials did not respond to repeated requests for comments and additional information on this matter.

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