Public housing residents say contractors aren't hiring CHA occupants

Nearly every day, Robert Davidson says young people living in Lathrop Homes, the public housing development where he resides, come to him for advice.

He’d like to refer them to Section 3 opportunities, job openings that Chicago Housing Authority contractors are required to provide for public housing residents. But Davidson, 60, says that contractors don’t hire CHA residents.

Davidson talked about his frustrations and proposed changes for the program yesterday at CHA’s Tenant Services Committee meeting. 

“I’ve got young ladies, young men, turning 18, 20, 21 saying, ‘Mr. Davidson, I need a job. I need a job. I need a job,'” Davidson says. “To me, Section 3 has been a failure in the past. For the last eight or nine years, I don’t see any improvement.” he says.

Davidson, who’s lived in Lathrop Homes with his wife since 1991, says instead of making residents apply through CHA’s human resources department, the contractors instead should go through the public housing’s Local Advisory Council to find suitable applicants.

“They have residents come to downtown Chicago – these residents are the poorest in the city. Where are they going to find car fare everyday for job hunting?”

Under the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968, public housing contractors are required to give preference to local, low-income residents when hiring new employees or subcontracting. Under Section 3, one of every three new employees should reside in the community where the project is located.

However, contractors don’t always live up to the law’s requirements. CHA contracts with six social service providers to serve more than 9,000 families through their FamilyWorks case management program.

Of all six agencies, 35 employees are CHA residents, according to Linda Kaiser, executive vice president of resident services at CHA.

The Tenant Services Committee is also concerned with the lack of Section 3 hiring from CHA contractors.

“In the nine months I’ve been on this board, no issue has been talked about more than Section 3,” said Commissioner Samuel Mendenhall.

Mendenhall agreed with Davidson that the program needs work.

“We’re going to make it better,” Mendenhall says. “That’s my promise to you.”

But Willie Burrell, public housing resident and president of the Local Advisory Council for Dorothy Gatreaux Northeast, says even when Section 3 opportunities are available, they aren’t made known to residents.

Burrell said a flyer was distributed on Oct. 10 notifying residents of available Section 3 applications at only some of the CHA’s public housing complexes. The dates on the flyer spanned from Oct. 14 through Oct. 29 – too short of notice, says Burrell, for residents to find out.

“Residents are just not being hired from Section 3. If they are, it’s not what it should be,” Burrell says.

CHA requires contractors to report their Section 3 hires, but statistics on the level of compliance were not made available by deadline. According to the law, contractors who don’t meet Section 3 requirements must demonstrate an effort to comply with the ordinance or risk termination.