CHA New Work Rule Questioned

by  Editor-In-Chief

The CHA Board of Commissioners approved a new rule requiring all “able-bodied” adult residents – ages 18 to 61 – to work in order to keep their public housing rental unit, during their December 2007 public meeting. However, the new mandated work rule demands some things that may create “homelessness” as well as lawsuits according to legal aid attorneys for the lead resident tenant council.

Tenant Council Concern about New Work Rules
Richard Wheelock, an attorney from the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago spoke with Residents’ Journal on January 10, 2008, on behalf of the Central Advisory Council.

The CAC consists of elected public housing residents to work on behalf of other tenants with the CHA and City of Chicago officials.

Wheelock told RJ that the CHA is approaching the work rule requirement “the wrong way,” which could lead to residents becoming homeless.

“I think some of the changes were responsive. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that if the family fails to comply, it could leave to eviction and cause homelessness,” he said.

Under the new work requirement, CHA states that it will provide “supportive services” to residents in the areas of housing, mental health or substance abuse, lease compliance, financial planning, transportation, child care, education, employment and job training to help the residents comply with the new work rule.

A month before the CHA approved the new work requirements for its residents, Wheelock, sent a letter dated to the CHA Management Analysis an Planning Department detailing some concerns the resident council’s had regarding the then proposed work requirement rules. In the letter dated November 7, 2007, Wheelock wrote, “CHA’s work requirement program fails to provide transportation, childcare, school, and clothing expenses…fails to recognize that it costs money to find and maintain employment.”

RJ asked Wheelock if the Board approved ACOP met the tenant council’s concerns regarding transportation, childcare, school and clothing expenses needed for residents’ job searches.

Wheelock replied that the Board approved ACOP states that it would only provide referrals.

“CHA isn’t putting up any monies to pay for child care, transportation, school and clothing expenses. That’s just some of the examples of some of the barriers for families [to find work],” Wheelock added.

Wheelock also said an “important component” mandated under the Residents Relocation Rights Contract between residents and the Housing Authority – which is the legal document that protects the residents’ rights and explains the residents’ and CHA’s responsibilities under the $1.6 billion Plan for Transformation – was left out of the revised CHA board approved new work rule for the public housing residents.

That component he said states that “CHA must first themselves file a grievance and appear before a hearing officer before they can file an eviction court case against a resident for not complying with the work requirement.”

“CHA has hired the City Department of Administrative Hearings to hear formal grievances. They serve as administrative judges. Before CHA can go to eviction court, they need to go before an independent hearing officer to show that the resident is not making a good faith effort to find work. This gives the resident added protection to show that the resident is making good faith efforts to comply. It provides an important “eyes and ears” over any dispute regarding compliance with the work requirements.

“This is an important protection that the relocation right provides. And CHA has completely ignored this requirement in this new procedure,” Wheelock said.

Wheelock, the CAC and other lawyers were reviwing the ACOP for violation of the Residents Relocation Rights Contract which would serve as a basis for a lawsuit.

“Right now the next step is that CHA has to send it to HUD for approval. We have contacted HUD officials asking them to delay the new requirement until the CHA actually sits down with the CAC to discuss its concerns, Wheelock said.

Wheelock said he and CAC were still waiting to meet with the CHA to discuss the approved ACOP.

CAC Suggestions to CHA
The CAC suggestions to the CHA?include an “incentive based” program such as the one implemented in New York.

Wheelock told RJ that such a progam would be “in many ways identical to the pilot program at the CHA Henry Horner mixed-income community.

“At Horner, families are given incentives in the form of small cash rewards or gifts when families make improvements or progress towards reaching their employment goals. If the big apple can do it, so can the Chicago. And their program has proved very successful in Mexico City.”

“Rather than a punitive based program with the threat of eviction, the program at Henry Horner and in New York, are incentive based, which we think is better public policy.”

Pathway to Reward, which is operated by Project Match, is the work incentive program for West Haven mixed income housing at the site of Henry Horner.

CHA on New Work Rules
RJ asked CHA spokesperson Brian Ziesis on Jan. 11, 2008 if they were going to assist residents in paying for their childcare and transportation and clothing costs to look for work?

Zieses was evasive and unsure about whether CHA was going to pay for transportation and clothing costs for residents’ job searches. He said he would research the issue further and confer with RJ at a later date.

“We’re spending $25 million a year to provide all of the resources and training and opportunities in drug and children care and anything else to help people get on the path to self sufficiency.

“Our Family Work providers are going to be able to work though all of these issues and resolve whatever problems. When you are referred to Illinois Action for Children so they can deal with the child care issue, not only do they have slots for full time child care, but they also have slots for family members to get paid to care for their children.”

A few days later Ziese said CHA has financial resources available for transportation, through their contracted service providers, for people in some type of educational or job training program. He added that some form of transportation assistance would also be available through the service providers for people looking for work.

“They are going to be providing transportation assistance for people looking for work,” he said on Jan. 14.

The Family Works Program, is the new model designed to served roughly 9,000 CHA families across the City of Chicago that will focus on “identifiable outcomes with an intensive concentration on permanent housing choices, lease compliance, employment preparation, and employment retention,” according to the Dec. 12, 2007 CHA Board approved Intergovernmental Agreement between the CHA and City.

The new program is projected to also “provide housing counseling and clinical services to individuals who may have an undiagnosed developmental disability or are in need of mental health treatment or substance abuse treatment,” as well as target services “to CHA families residing in family developments, scattered site communities, and families that relocated temporarily to the private housing market with a Housing Choice Voucher since October 1999.”

Zieses disagreed with Wheelock that the new work rule was punitive to residents.

“This policy is not meant to be punitive. This policy is meant to help people become engaged and self sufficient. This is an engagement requirement. People need to become engaged in their community and not just to sit at home.

“What this policy does is ask people to try learning a trade, getting a job, going back to school becoming engaged in their community.”

“If they are trying to find a job and can’t, then they will fall under the Safe Harbor provision,” he said.

RJ asked Zieses why the Housing Authority failed to include in the recently approved ACOP documents that the CHA is suppose to file a grievance hearing request to independent hearing officers before proceeding with CHA resident court evictions.

He said, “Basically we didn’t feel as though that clause was necessary.”

The City of Chicago acting through the Chicago Department of Human Services (CDHS), will oversee the Family Works Program in the amount of $20,563,987.00 for the period of Jan. 1, 2008 through Dec. 31, 2008, with two one-year options to provide supportive services for CHA residents, according to the December 2007 CHA Board approved IGA between the CHA and City.

Families living at the Cabini Green and Henry Horner public housing sites would not be included under auspices of the Family Works Program, according to the IGA.

The contract states that the needs of residents at those two public housing sites are more of a challenge to meet.

“With the start of this new program, it was decided to place the two consent decree developments on a separate track since the sit dynamics and needs differ from the balance of CHA sites. Providing services at the Cabrini Development and Henry Horner Homes has been challenging and requires different and/or additional services beyond the scope of Family Works as well as direct contract oversight by CHA. As a result, CHA will issue two separate [Request for Proposals] to obtain services covering the Cabrini Green Development and Henry Horner Homes,” stated the CHA December document.

Winter 2008 / Number 44

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