2004 Election Focal Points


In the previous issue of Residents’ Journal, I wrote about two of the candidates who were competing to be the next US Senator from Illinois. I asked them specific questions of interest to our entire readership. However, there are issues which all voters should become familiar with. To better inform our readers, I have asked a number of local activists to comment on some of the issues we should know about.

On November 2, 2004, citizens of the United States of America will go to the polls to vote. Due to the war in Iraq, economic concerns regarding the national budget, jobs, out-sourcing (sending work to foreign countries) and the threat of rising interest rates, many of us will certainly be aware of the importance and significance of the coming election. Locally and nationally, activists, officials and others are sounding the alarm far and wide to make sure we understand what is at stake.

For example, an important housing program for low-income people, the Housing Choice Voucher Program (formerly known as Section 8) is presently threatened by budget cuts at the federal level. The Bush Administration’s proposed cuts to the program would affect people across the country. If the Bush plan is passed, even people currently benefiting from a Housing Choice Voucher could lose their funding.

At the state level, activists are concerned about House Bill 4439. The bill would make it illegal for landlords to discriminate against prospective tenants based on how they want to pay for their rent. At the present time, it is legal to discriminate against someone due to source of income except in Chicago, where a city ordinance makes such discrimination illegal. But elsewhere in Illinois, people can be refused an apartment based on the fact that they are receiving Social Security Supplemental Income (SSI) or child support payments as part of their monthly income, or merely because they have a Housing Choice voucher.

Chicago’s Commissioner of Housing wanted everyone concerned about these issues to understand that the city is very aware of problems related to affordable housing.

“The City of Chicago supports the principles that form the foundation of HB 4439. The City set the precedent with its own legislation that prohibits discrimination by housing providers based on the source income. We feel this protection should be extended to the residents of the whole state,” said Housing Commissioner John Markowski.

“The City of Chicago strongly supports full funding of the Section 8 program and opposes changes that would result in less families being served,” added Markowski.

Later on, I spoke with a Bronzeville resident regarding these two issues. Anthony Williams, who until recently resided at 43rd and Drexel on the city’s South Side, explained to me how surprised he was at the increasing amount of homelessness he has witnessed recently among families, newlyweds, old friends and relatives.

“My point is that there just does not seem to be enough affordable housing. Why are there so many homeless people? One of the reasons is lack of jobs and affordable housing. And, now that I hear about the Presidents’ proposed budget cuts that will reduce the amount of money to support Section 8 programs nationwide, I am really surprised,” Williams said.

“This is a crucial situation, especially for minorities and the inner city communities where low paying jobs and welfare seem to me to be on the rise again. Many single parents with kids are really having a hard time obtaining jobs which will provide housing for them.”

Williams also commented on the legislation that would ban discrimination based on source of income. “Yes, I guess I too would be reluctant to rent to someone on welfare or a fixed income, because rents are so high now that until their rent is paid, they hardly have anything left; which eventually cuts into their [ability to pay their] rent,” he said. “On the other hand, at the same time I realize that many senior citizens, that’s all they have. So I can see how our legislature would be correct to look out for them.”

According to Darrell Price at Access Living, a group that advocates for the disabled, “There are a number of housing authorities around the country that are doing redevelopment, besides our local CHA. And, with the Plan for Transformation, as it exists today, a lot of people will be vouchered out. For example, the units are not being replaced one for one, and the local housing market as tight as it is, the way I understand it, there may not be enough vacancies to absorb all the people who may be given vouchers under the Plan for Transformation. You ask me am I hopeful about House Bill 4439, whether or not it will pass, I say yes; I think that eventually it will pass. There is of course opposition from realtor associations about it but more and more politicians are on board with it. That is, many are beginning to understand the need for this bill and to see housing as more of a human right,” said Price.

Tracy Occomy of the Statewide Housing Action Coalition (SHAC) said there is a lot to be done to get the word out. “Our plan is to travel to Springfield and enlist the help of other activists and dialogue with lawmakers in the effort to get this bill passed,” she said.

After contacting Julie Dworkin at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, I was able to learn about some other initiatives geared towards increasing affordable housing availability state wide. Dworkin mentioned the “It Takes a Home to Raise a Child Campaign.” One of the campaign’s most significant components is the Family Homelessness Prevention Program. In 1999, activists launched a campaign that successfully advocated for this program which provides rent, utility, legal and other assistance for families experiencing a short-term crisis. The campaign has successfully advocated for $5 million in funding for the program the past two years and continues to work to ensure that funding stays at that level.

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