Latinos Gain Access to Public Housing

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Carlos DeJesus’s agency, Latinos United, sued the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This lawsuit came about because these two government agencies were not including the Latino community in their programs. The lawsuit resulted in a consent decree in 1996 after a 13-year effort.

Today, Latino families represent 27 percent of the Chicago population who are eligible for public housing yet they are only 2 percent of the current public housing population.

“In reality, what we want is for these agencies to open their doors to the Latino community as well as their programs and for them to eliminate the language barriers,” said DeJesus.

He added, “Everything in the agency (CHA) was written in English. We asked the agency to provide public housing applications in Spanish.”

DeJesus also says that there will be an informational campaign about public housing and the Section 8 program that will utilize radio, television and newspaper advertisements.

“The contract for this work was awarded to us and Spanish Coalition for Housing, located at 4035 W. North Ave.” These two agencies will be promoting these programs to the Latino community.

Carlos DeJesus. Photo by Julio Martinez

DeJesus said that the Section 8 General Waiting List has been closed for over 12 years and that it will be reopened. Edwin Eisendrath, chairman of CHA, says that this is the surest sign that the CHA is overcoming its problems and becoming a more effective agency.

According to a CHA press release, of all the persons who submitted applications, approximately 25,000 families will be chosen at random for placement on the General Section 8 Waiting List.

In December of 1995, HUD took over the Section 8 program from CHA, privatizing it and transferring it to CHAC Inc. Many of these developments are due to the privatization of the Section 8 program and as a result have led to an exciting opportunity with Hispanics uniting to take on the two agencies because of the lack of Latinos in the offices, supervisory and administration.

Hipolito Roldan, president of Hispanic Housing Development, calls this action Òlong overdue.” Roldan says CHA is a public body in charge of providing affordable housing to low-income persons. “The Chicago Housing Authority and HUD have ignored the Latino community for decades,” said Roldan.

DeJesus said there will also be a special Section 8 waiting list open until Dec. 23 just for Latinos who would have applied for Section 8 between 1974-1994.

“Latinos who are eligible to be included on this list would be those persons who were heads of households or who were expectant mothers in the years between 1974 and 1985 or who were elderly, disabled or displaced between 1974 and 1994 and who would have applied for the Section 8 program if they would have known about it,” said William C.G. Velazquez, special assistant for Latino Relations at the CHA.

“The applicants will be asked to prove that they were in the U.S. using as proof, for example, utility bills or school records and they must also be currently income eligible,” said Velazquez.

Hector Gamboa, program coordinator for the Spanish Coalition for Housing, said that it has been a problem finding landlords who will accept Section 8s. Given the stigma connected with families who hold Section 8 certificates and vouchers, Gamboa hopes that Latino landlords will give Latino families who receive certificates and vouchers a chance. Section 8 allows a family to pay a maximum of 30 percent of their monthly income in rent with the rest being paid with federal funds. Gamboa said that of the 18,000 Section 8 certificates and vouchers in use in Chicago, only 300 are being used by Latinos. Velazquez said there are Latino families that pay up to 80 percent of their income in rent.

“If a family spends that much in rent, then undoubtedly there is a sacrifice in spending toward education, clothing and food.”

Currently there is a publicity campaign that has been launched to encourage 15,000 Latino applicants to apply for public housing in the next six months. Gamboa said this number is only a third of the estimated 45,000 Latino families that are eligible. On another note, Velazquez emphasized that if at least one member of a family is an American citizen, legal permanent resident, asylee or refugee, the whole family may be eligible for public housing if they meet the income guidelines. He also said that although the citizenship status of applicants is verified, the CHA is not obligated to share this information with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Receiving public housing assistance does not count as a public charge and therefore does not count against one’s citizenship application.

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