C.H.A. subsidizes slumlords

As CHA shifts from maintaining publicly-owned low-income housing to subsidizing privately-run housing, the number of subsidized buildings that fail CHA inspections has soared, Angela Caputo reports in the Chicago Reporter.

Last year, nearly 60 percent of buidings in CHA’s Housing Choice Voucher program failed inspections at least half of the time, she reports.  The failure rate is twice as high as it was six years ago.

Between 2006 and 2011, landlords collected $337 million in subsidies for buildings that chronically failed inspections, according to a Reporter analysis of payment and inspection data for CHA’s voucher program.

Some slumlords are taking advantage of the program to milk buildings — getting higher rents than they could on the open market — with little maintenance, and walking away when things get too bad, tenant advocates argue.

That means tenants have to live with mold, rodents, broken walls, ceilings and porches, and sometime no heat or water — and neighborhoods are dragged down by declining properties and, eventually, dangerous vacant buildings.

CHA provides little accountability for slumlords, advocates say.  Nor is this a new problem.  In 2005, the Chicago Tribune found that 40 percent of units inspected in the voucher program got failing grades.  Four years later, HUD ” issued a blistering audit that found the agency continued to routinely overpay landlords who rented out failing units that were ‘not decent, safe and sanitary,'” Caputo reports.

CHA’s use of vouchers since the Plan For Transformation was launched in 2000 has grown by 60 percent.  The agency’s new draft Plan Forward projects further stepping up the use of vouchers.

Connecting veterans with health care, services

While many of us assume veterans have access to health care through the Veterans Administration, it’s often not the case.

“Most people assume the VA is health insurance,” Joe Franzese of Illinois Warriors to Warriors tells The Gate. “It’s not. You might have access to some health services, depending on how, when and where you served.”  Even for veterans who are eligible, care is not necessarily available, timely, or free.

An analysis by Health and Disability Advocates shows that many veterans are uninsured, with rates as high as 30 percent in communities like Austin on the West Side.   Overall the group estimates that 40,000 Illinois veterans are uninsured.

About a third of the state’s veterans have incomes low enough to qualify for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, according to an AP report on the HDA study.  The state legislature approved an expansion of Medicaid under the ACA in May.

HDA runs the Illinois Warrior to Warrior program, in which veteran volunteers help other veterans connect with health services and get help with issues ranging from employment to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Military Sexual Trauma.

Franzese is “like my personal angel,” says one veteran, who tells the Gate of his struggles to get services for physical and emotional issues that led to several suicide attempts.  Now he’s in a veterans support group, and Franzese is helping him look for work.

“It’s a complete 360,” he says. “I’m happy now. My home life is better. It gets me out of my own bubble, just picking up the pieces.”


For more:  Listen to Franzese and HDA executive director Barbara Otto discuss veterans’ health care on WBEZ’s Afternoon Shift

Expanding participatory budgeting

Many Chicagoans involved in “participatory budgeting” in four Chicago wards this year “want to see the program expand,” Joel Handley reports in the final installment of a series in In These Times.

In the 5th Ward, the most popular choices of residents voting on how to spend aldermanic “menu money” included beautification projects like a community garden on 71st Street (the top vote-getter) and a community mural, along with public safety projects like streetlight repairs.

But “the inadequacy of the ward’s menu money to fix the ward’s most demanding problems — housing foreclosures, school closures and gun violence” — could be a reason that turnout wasn’t higher in the 5th Ward, according to Handley.

“Some are eyeing the public schools budget or the entire city budget” as areas where participatory budgeting could play a role.

In Porto Alegro, Brazil, where PB was invented in the late 1980s, the process governed “much of the city’s budget,” and residents voted to build affordable housing, pave roads, build schools and deliver clean drinking water.  In a poor district of Mexico City, residents reclaimed public lands, distributed food and gas to poor residents, and slashed the salaries of elected officials.

South Shore resident Elliot El-Amin thinks PB should be brought to bear on Mayor Emanuel’s $50 million private fund for anti-violence programs.

“At the press conference he had announcing this, the mayor only mentioned youth basketball leagues,” El-Amin said.  “If that’s all you can come up with, with $50 million dollars, I think somebody’s got  lot more money than they’ve got ideas.”

Next year, several more wards are expected to introduce the process.  Last year the first citywide participatory budgeting program in the U.S. was initiated by Vallejo, California, a Bay Area city of 116,000 people.

A new phase for an old steel community

The section of the south lakefront once occupied by U.S. Steel’s South Works is larger than the Loop — and it’s been empty since the steel mills shut down 25 years ago.

On WBEZ, Kari Lydersen looks at prospects for a proposed redevelopment, including 13,000 units of upscale housing, shopping, and a research park and charter school.  And she talks with local residents who wonder whether they’ll have a role in the new South Chicago, or whether they’ll be pushed out.

In a companion piece, Lydersen looks at a thriving Latino art scene on the Southeast Side, which the local chamber of commerce hopes will contribute to the area’s revitalization.

The radio debut of veteran print journalist Lydersen was catalyzed by the Local Reporting Initiative of the Chicago Community Trust, which connected her with producer Bill Healy.

Links between domestic abuse and street violence

“Domestic violence is basically at the root of much of the violence that we see here on the streets,” says Father Dave Kelly of Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, who works with at-risk and gang-involved youth.

“Most of the kids who we deal with, youth who are locked up, speak of the violence they had to endure a big part of their life,” he tells Adriana Cardoa-Maguigad in a piece that aired on WBEZ recently.

Cardona-Maguigad talks with a 16-year-old who witnessed extensive domestic abuse in his early years  — his father is in prison as a result of it — about his struggles with anger.  He loses his temper regularly at home, and he’s been arrested at school for getting into fights.

His mother has managed to keep him out of gangs, with the help of a mentor, Chicago Police Officer Rafael Yanez.  In his spare time, Yanez runs Union Impact Center, a sports and mentoring program on the Southwest Side.  But “the lure of the streets” is always there.

The extent of the problem is hard to track, but social service agencies say they lack resources to treat more than a small portion of the young people in need.

Fifth ward votes on budget

Fifth Ward residents voted May 4 to select neighborhood infrastructure projects funded by $1.3 million in aldermanic “menu money,” In These Times reports in the third installment of a series on the process.

Street lights and a community garden on 71st Street got the most votes, with other winning projects ranging from sidewalk repairs and security cameras to public murals.

Ald Leslie Hairston was one of  three aldermen implementing participatory budgeting this year, four years after it was introduced here in the 49th Ward, and thirty years after the concept was pioneered by the Workers Party in Brazil.

A core of volunteer community representatives spent months winnowing down 150 ideas raised in brainstorming sessions last October into specific, feasible projects.

Only 104 residents turned out in the 5th — more than 400 voted in the 45th and 46th, and 1,427 voted in the 49th — and volunteers later discussed ways of improving outreach and turnout next year.

In New York City, where participatory budgeting was introduced on a small scale last year, organizers have succeed in boosting the participation of low-income residents — far above their turnout rate in local elections — as ITT reported in a previous installment. That article charts the history of participatory budgeting around the world, where it’s been deployed with varying degrees of success.

Maria Hadden of the Partipatory Budgeting Project points out that, while voter turnout matters, the opportunity throughout the process for residents to “develop a community voice and learn how to use it” is just as important.

“When I’m driving around the city, I’ll say, ‘Oh, they’re doing this here,’ or ‘they’re doing that there,’” one participant told ITT.  “I’ve always wanted to be a ‘they.’

“Communities always have things put upon them,” said Angela Sims, an intern with UIC’s College of Urban Planning, who volunteered for the project. Participatory budgeting “can bridge the ‘they’ and the community,” she said.

Series author Joel Handley will lead a panel discussion of the lessons to be learned from the Chicago experience for the Illinois Humanities Council on June 11 at the Cultural Center; more information here.

Participatory budgeting in the Fifth Ward

In These Times is following Fifth Ward residents as they grapple with participatory budgeting, a public process for allocating infrastructure dollars.

Forty residents are serving on committees to sift through suggestions from the public and come up with proposals to be voted on in May.  At this point, ideas range from the mundane — more streetlights — to the fanciful — a heated driving range at Jackson Park’s golf course.

Invented by the Workers Party in Brazil in 1989, participatory budgeting was introduced in Chicago in 2009 by 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore.  Residents discuss and vote on proposals for spending the $1.3 million in aldermanic menu money each ward gets annually for small infrastructure projects.  This year, three additional aldermen are implementing the concept.

“In a city not inclined to involve the public in decision-making,…the democratization of ward menu money is a small step, but a significant one,” writes Joel Handley.

The article is the first installment in a series that will follow the process through the final vote.

On the West Side, a teen’s death gets little attention

Antonio Fenner was one year older than Hadiya Pendleton, and was shot dead three days before she was.

And while Hadiya’s death gained national attention, symbolizing the epidemic of violence that has swept Chicago, the aftermath of Antonio’s killing may be more typical.

President Obama spoke of Hadiya in the State of the Union Address, and Michelle Obama attended her funeral, along with an array of public officials.  A $40,000 reward was established for information about her killing, police set up a hotline for tips, and an intensive investigation yielded the arrest of two men suspected of involvement with shooting Hadiya within two weeks.

After Antonio was shot in what reports suggest was a random act, friends and community members decorated the site of the shooting, and his funeral was standing room only, according to a February 13 WBEZ report, part of an ongoing effort by Columbia College journalism students to track the homicides of young people.

But no public officials have spoken out about the killing, and with little media attention, police hadn’t even contacted Fenner’s family since his death.

A police spokesman told WBEZ that there are hundreds of murder investigations underway in Chicago, and investigating officers may not have felt it was necessary to speak with the family.  Police had no idea of a motive in the shooting and no leads.

Fenner’s stepfather, wonders whether police are even trying to catch Antonio’s killer.

He describes the attitude of police toward young people in Garfield Park: “They’re just going to kill each other, and our job is just to come by and clean up.”

In a related report, Austin Talks explores the impact of violence.  They talk with Tali Raviv, a psychologist at Lurie Children’s Hospital who trains teachers, counselors, and community members to identify and help children traumatized by violence.

Without such help, children exposed to violence are prone to becoming violent themselves, she says.

Noting the high rate of young people in the juvenile justice system who have trauma histories, she says we are “creating this multi-generational violence loop.”

Austin Talks also speaks with David Elam of Fathers Who Care, a group that holds monthly meetings where teens can explore issues and connect with mentors.

“The angle on Hadiya Pendleton is really because she embodied so much of the promise of youth, but all of these youths should be viewed that way,” says Raviv.

Local Reporting awards for 2013

The second round of awards in the Local Reporting Initiative will back fourteen community news projects focusing on issues on the South and West Sides ranging from youth violence to realities facing the LGBTQ community in the criminal system.

Each project will receive $5,000 to support original reporting or data analysis from the Community News Matters program of the Chicago Community Trust.  The program is backed by CCT, the MacArthur Foundation and the McCormick Foundation.

Issues to be covered include subsidized housing, participatory budgeting in one Chicago ward, health care challenges facing veterans, the community impact of redevelopment of the U.S. Steel site, domestic violence and mental health in Back of the Yards, the impact of incarceration on Chicago communities, and school reform in Humboldt Park and Bronzeville.

Recipients range from established outlets like the Chicago Reporter and In These Times to grassroots projects like the Neighborhood Writing Alliance and Austin Talks, and include several freelance journalists.

The initiative is a response to findings of the 2010 Community News Matters study that found that residents of low-income South and West Side neighborhoods felt that traditional news outlets do not cover relevant issues in their communities.

To keep up with the latest output from the Local Reporting Initiative, follow the Community News Project blog.

Here are the recipients of the 2012 Local Reporting Awards:

  1. Chicago Reporter, to investigate Chicago’s Section 8 housing program;
  2. Windy City Times, to investigate the realities facing the LGBTQ community in the criminal legal system;
  3. In These Times, to explore participatory budgeting on Chicago’s 5th ward;
  4. Health and Disability Advocates, to document health care difficulties facing local military veterans;
  5. Bill Healy, to enhance the content and distribution of projects by fellow award winners;
  6. Kari Lydersen, to explore community impact of South side steel site redevelopment;
  7. The Gate, to explore domestic violence and mental health in the Back of the Yards community;
  8. Latinos Progresando, to document monologues by youth regarding Latino and American cultural perspectives;
  9. Austin Talks, to produce a video documentary about homicides of Chicago youth;
  10. Carlos Javier Ortiz, to produce a video documentary of youth violence at Stroger Hospital;
  11. Neighborhood Writing Alliance, to document the impact of incarceration among West and South side Chicago residents;
  12. Kalyn Belsha, to investigate leadership support for Latina women in Chicago;
  13. Amandillo Cuzan, to produce a video documentary on Bronzeville area schools;
  14. Westside Writing Alliance, to document the impact of school reform in the Humboldt/Garfield Park area.

Lead poisoning persists in Chicago

A recent study of Chicago children found that in three-fourths of CPS schools, the average blood lead levels of students was high enough to be considered poisoned, Megan Contrell reports at the Chicago Reader.

Lead poisoning can cause a range of health problems including neurological damage and learning disabilities.  Looking at data from CPS, the study showed that even lower levels of lead poisoning can affect test scores and other measures of achievement.

One expert calls it “the low-hanging fruit of education reform.”

But efforts to combat lead poisoning have lagged as funding for prevention has been cut. The Centers for Disease Control’s budget for lead poisoning prevention was reduced by 90 percent this year.

In Englewood, which has the highest lead poisoning rates in the nation, the community group Imagine Englewood If works with parents and landlords to increase awareness.  The group is also pushing for restoration of state funding to test schoolchildren.

The Metropolitan Tenants Organization is preparing an ordinance requiring testing of all apartments for lead levels (currently they are tested if a child is found to be poisoned).  But the group has not yet found an alderman to sponsor the ordinance.

“Lead poisoning is one of the few causes of social and learning problems that we know how to solve,” said Anita Weinberg, director of Lead Safe Housing Initiatives at Loyola University.  “We can resolve this problem within a generation, but it’s not a priority for the city.”