CHA proposes cutting public housing waitlist in half

Chicago Housing Authority officials introduced a plan on Wednesday that could potentially knock thousands of families, elderly and disabled people off the waitlist for public housing because they failed to register a current address.

In all, 47,536 applicants–53 percent of people on the public housing waiting lists–could be affected by the proposal. CHA Chief Executive Officer Charles Woodyard said at Wednesday’s public comment hearing that people who haven’t responded to emails, written requests or phone calls for updated contact information would be automatically purged to give the agency a more “accurate representation of who needs to be on the list.” Agency officials said that they made attempts to contact those people over a two-month period between December 2012 and February 2013.

Woodyard also said during the board meeting that the update will help the CHA “provide housing more quickly and efficiently.”

Tenants, low-income housing activists and applicants are up in arms over the proposal, which they say is likely to exclude people who need subsidized housing the most.

“The problem is there’s a disconnect between the CHA and the resources that those people really have available to them,” said Leah Levinger, coordinator of the Chicago Housing Initiative, a coalition of low-income housing activists, who finds it difficult herself at times to keep tabs on people for whom she advocates.

“Even our level of connectedness with the population is low because they move around so much,” Levinger said. “The infrastructure isn’t there.”

The proposal comes as part of the CHA’s Financial Year 2014 Annual Plan, which outlines the agency’s goals for the coming year. According to that plan, agency officials expect “that additional eligible families can be identified and apply through that process upon wait list opening.”

How that will happen remains to be seen considering that the waitlists are closed for family housing and Housing Choice Vouchers, the program through which low-income families can rent private market housing. And there is no word on when applicants should expect the programs to open again.

The last time the CHA invited people to apply for a spot on a public housing waitlist was in 2010. More than 215,000 families applied, according to its fiscal year 2010 annual report. The CHA accepted only 40,000 applicants that year.

Even if people do make it onto the list, they’re likely to be waiting for years.

Woodyard reminded those at the meeting that the report will undergo changes before it’s completed, and claimed he would take the grace period into consideration. The board will put the plan to a vote during a meeting on Oct. 15.

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