CHA officials to residents: Get a job

Public housing residents must have jobs to keep their homes under a controversial new policy adopted today by Chicago Housing Authority commissioners.

The move, part of the agency's Plan for Transformation, will initially require residents to work at least 15 hours a week or face possible eviction. 

The CHA Board of Commissioners has never before made employment a requirement for public housing occupants. It did so as part of revisions for the  transformation plan's 10th year, which will govern how the agency operates during 2009.

Claudice Ware, president of the local advisory council at the Ida B. Wells complex, says she thinks the work requirements are a good thing, but the lagging economy might make them difficult in practice.

“Some of our residents do not have the proper skills to go out and get a job,” she says, “It’s going to take a team effort.”

The city-wide plan will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2009 and will require all able residents between the ages of 18 and 62 to work 15 hours a week for the first year and a half, and 20 hours a week after that time.

Ida B.Wells has been operating under the work requirements in a pilot program since 2001. Phase one of the Wells program was a 20 hour per week requirement, and the development is now into phase two, requiring 30 hours per week.

Ware says Wells’ program has been generally successful.

“A lot of our residents are employed. Less than 10 percent are unemployed,” she says.

Residents who cannot find a job can stay in their homes by showing they are working to meet the requirements by enrolling in job training courses, GED or other educational programs, or getting help from a case manager.

But job placement and training services through CHA service contractors aren’t currently helping many residents.

Of the 4,000 families currently engaged with the six FamilyWorks service providers, only 205 people have completed job readiness programs, and 306 have been placed in employment in 2008, says Linda Kaiser, executive vice president of resident services at CHA.

“Honestly, these numbers aren’t where I’d like them to be, but I think with CHA’s help, we can get them there,” Kaiser said at a recent Tenant Services Committee meeting.

The plan creates exceptions for those who unable to work due to circumstances such as disability, child care obligations or victims of domestic violence situations.

In addition to lack of training opportunities, limited transportation options to and from public housing could also make it difficult for some residents to find work. Claudice Ware says she often finds the transit system to be inadequate.

“I’ve traveled North, South, East and West, and transportation service here is a zero,” she says, “If you cannot get somewhere on time, it makes it difficult.”

Robin Snyderman, housing expert at the Metropolitan Planning Council, says transportation is critical component to the success of the Plan for Transformation.

“Transit is among the most important investments you can bring to a neighborhood, but it doesn’t happen at the snap of the finger,” Snyderman says.

The Metropolitan Planning Council, a non-profit which advises the CHA on public housing issues, has held several community forums to get input from residents on transportation issues. The last of these events will be held in December, after which the Council will present their findings to the city of Chicago Department of Planning.

CHA approved the initial Plan for Transformation in 2000 as a systematic effort to revitalize public housing in Chicago through the demolition and rehabilitation and rebuilding of public housing units. The plan is set to extend through 2018. The Year 10 plan was presented to the public in August.