Relocation Rights Duel

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Public housing tenant leaders recently chided the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) for trying to deny thousands of former residents their right to return to public housing.

CHA officials admitted in the summer of 2009 they didn’t know the whereabouts of 3,200 families who were relocated under the Plan for Transformation, the 10-year-old effort to demolish most of the city’s public housing developments and replace them with mixed-income communities.

Last July, the CHA placed ads in local newspapers trying to find residents they’d lost. But when the ads produced only limited results, CHA threatened that former tenants who didn’t respond within 90 days would lose their right to be return.

That move did not sit well with the Central Advisory Council, the group of presidents of CHA developments. Robert Whitfield, one of the CAC’s lawyers, told RJ on June 28 that as long as the former residents relocated during the Plan for Transformation and remained lease complaint, their rights wouldn’t be relinquished.

“I don’t care what they put out in the paper,” Whitfield said. “When these people were moved years ago, nobody told them anything like that. All they told them is that they had some options.

Whitfield cited the Relocation Rights Contract established between the residents and CHA at the beginning of the Plan for Transformation, which gives all lease-compliant residents who lived in CHA units as of Oct. 1, 1999, a legally enforceable right to return to a new mixed-income unit, a rehabilitated public housing unit, or to get a Housing Choice Voucher.

Whitfield said he notified the CHA immediately that their new policy would violate the Relocation Rights Contract and CHA agreed to create a new policy. Whitfield said he would work with CHA to craft a new legal document, and the resident leaders and the CHA would jointly announce the finished product.

“If somebody shows up four years from now, what matters is what happens to that person then. And that’s what we’re going to memorialize,” Whitfield said.

CHA Recants
Back in July, CHA issued a press release that indicated the missing families who didn’t contact CHA within 90 days would be dropped from CHA’s lists unless they could “prove his or her inability to respond.”

But CHA changed its position a month later.

On Aug. 6, 2009, CHA General Counsel Scott Ammarell e-mailed a statement that said that non-responding residents would still be removed from the replacement housing waiting after 90 days, but added that qualified former residents who contacted CHA later would get reinstated on the replacement housing list.

They no longer have to prove why they didn’t respond to CHA and will continue to have their right to return to a new mixed-income unit, a rehabilitated public housing unit, or to the private market via a Housing Choice Voucher (HCV).

Ammarell stated that more than 1,400 families already had contacted CHA as a result of the outreach.

“In order to provide new and rehabilitated housing units to families who need them, it is imperative to have an orderly process to offer such units first to families who have a right to return under the Relocation Rights Contract,” Ammarell wrote.

“Any family that is removed from the list may request reinstatement to the list at any time by contacting CHA and providing their current contact information.

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