Chicago Housing Authority officials and public housing residents have been at odds for years over policies created under the Plan for Transformation. While the CHA maintains that stricter lease requirements -- like mandatory good neighbor classes and a one-strike eviction rule -- for those living in subsidized units is key to creating harmony in new mixed-income communities, residents see the policies as downright discriminatory. And the CHA's latest proposal -- the topic of discussion at a public hearing tonight -- has become yet another source of tension.
The agency is proposing to drug test all adult public housing residents and to eliminate the "innocent tenant defense" clause, which would allow CHA to evict residents when a relative or guest is arrested for using drugs or acting violently. Essentially, the latter would take away tenants' avenue to appeal such evictions. (Check out the amendments here.)
Yesterday, members of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, public housing residents and their neighbors gathered in front of CHA headquarters to draw attention to the proposal, which will be up for public debate tonight. In their eyes, drug testing infringes on their 4th Amendment right to be shielded from unreasonable search and seizure. And by taking away their right to appeal evictions, Joseph Peery, a former Cabrini-Green public housing tenant who now lives in a mixed-income development, says "Now we're going from guilty until proven innocent to guilty with no chance of being proven innocent - just guilty." Click through to watch his and others' remarks:
The amendment to the leasing rules would not apply to homeowners of CHA mixed-income areas. That double standard is seen by many - including the American Civil Liberties Union -- as a form of profiling, according to a Chicago Sun-Times article.
But CHA spokeswoman Kellie O'Connell-Miller tells the newspaper that people living in the developments are asking for help quelling crime. "We're trying to tighten up our lease with some of these issues," she said. "Drug dealers won't come where there are no buyers. If you remove the folks who are interested in drugs, hopefully it will remove some of the problems."
If the CHA board adopts the measure, it will then go to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for approval.
Check back for our dispatch from tonight's hearing.
--Alexis Pope, Dylan Cinti and Angela Caputo