Tenants’ Lawyer: CHA Drug Testing Policy Will End Up in Court


Tenants' Central Advisory Council President Myra King telling former CHA Chief Lewis Jordan that their proposal to drug test all public tenants was “unfair and cruel," during a public hearing on the subject, at the Charles A. Hayes Family Investment Center on June 2, 2011. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte

After a huge public outcry this past June, the Chicago Housing Authority Board of Commissioners decided against drug testing all public housing tenants in the family and senior housing portfolio it oversees. See Residents’ Journal’s coverage here: https://wethepeoplemedia.org/homepage/board-squashes-cha-drug-testing-plan/
But CHA still approves of testing public housing tenants at their mixed-income properties managed by private developers as a condition for occupancy, which is not sitting right with the tenants’ Central Advisory Council.

The dispute between the tenant council and the CHA to drug test public housing tenants came up again because of the CHA staff’s recent proposal to drug test tenants who will occupy those public housing units at the Lakefront Properties, according to Robert Whitfield, an attorney for the tenant leaders.

Whitfield stated in an e-mail exchange with a Chicago-based U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development official on November 14, 2011, that CHA’s proposed drug testing policy in the CHA Draft Tenant Selection Plan for the Lakefront Properties contradicts federal housing law and “should be deleted and or modified accordingly.”

The CHA Draft Tenant Selection Plan for the mixed-income site states, “All applicants or members of an applicant’s household aged 17 and older must pass a drug test to determine that they are not currently using illegal drugs.”

Currently, public housing tenants at the CHA's Oakwood Shores mixed-income site undergo drug testing. RJ archived photo by Mary C. Piemonte

Whitfield stated that the Central Advisory Council previously forwarded correspondence to HUD’s General Counsel’s office in Washington, D.C., challenging the legality of the drug testing policy. Whitfield also stated that the CHA’s drug testing policy in mixed-income communities will eventually result in a court battle.

“I sense this issue is going to come to a head (and probably result in litigation by someone and or by some organization) over this latest proposal by CHA for drug testing in a CHA mixed finance development,” stated Whitfield. “Sooner or later the HUD Office of General Counsel is going to have to weigh in, given that its HUD’s regulation that’s at issue.”

Six days after the e-mail exchange with the HUD official, Whitfield sent a message to Myra King, the chairperson of the Central Advisory Council, indicating that the issue had been passed up the chain at HUD. Whitfield wrote that “HUD officials have now indicated that this matter was referred from the HUD Office of the General Counsel, to the HUD Assistant Secretary for Public Housing.” A decision from HUD officials on the legality of CHA’s drug testing policy has not been announced.

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