In the midst of what often feels like an uphill battle, I received this uplifting message from a woman who wants to take part in a new regional housing pilot MPC is leading, to help increase the availability and accessibility of quality, affordable rental homes across metropolitan Chicago:As the newest member of MPC’s housing team, it hasn’t taken me long to recognize how challenging the affordable housing field can be for everyone involved. Communities and housing authorities set high goals for new developments, while developers struggle to piece together complicated layers of financing. Negative public perceptions of affordable housing often create tremendous political barriers, yet the individuals and families who need these homes come from all walks of life and simply want a shot at a stable home.
“This is a wonderful chance for people like to be able to get the ball rolling on their life. I'm really excited to be a part of it. Awesome job, thanks for letting me know that someone still cares.” Miesha
The opportunity Miesha was referencing is the new Chicago Regional Housing Choice Voucher Initiative (CRHCI), which is testing out supply and demand-side housing solutions to give more people the chance to get the ball rolling. Research has shown that while people who have housing vouchers or live in public housing do move, they don’t necessarily move up, improving their quality of life. Yet every time voucher holders or public housing residents move, housing authorities and public dollars are spent—some on services to the resident, some on administration. The CRHCI pilot is an attempt to design an efficient, regional system in the Chicago area that guarantees these moves bring positive changes to the lives of households and the communities welcoming them and is more cost-effective for all involved parties.
Many families who live in public housing have never lived anywhere else, have weathered the severe decline and deterioration of their communities and buildings, and have been exposed to high levels of violence and criminal behavior. Studies show they need coordinated, comprehensive services and mobility counseling to help them identify opportunities to move up to opportunity areas and responsible relocation strategies.
The CRHCI currently running in Cook, DuPage, Lake, McHenry and Will counties is addressing these needs by providing mobility counseling and/or financial incentives to encourage individuals and families with vouchers to move to opportunity areas. Based on regional and local priorities, the pilot is defining "opportunity areas" as communities that have low poverty rates, quality schools, a stable housing stock, easy transit access, and nearby employment opportunities.
MPC is leading this pilot in collaboration with Housing Choice Partners, Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), Housing Authority of Cook County, DuPage Housing Authority, Joliet Housing Authority, Lake County Housing Authority, McHenry County Housing Authority, Oak Park Housing Authority, and Waukegan Housing Authority. The pilot will analyze how households fared in their new communities and whether counseling and incentives or incentives alone more effectively promote moving to opportunity. The pilot is not meant to occur in a vacuum, but rather it will be evaluated for its replicability on a larger scale so future policies, programs, and hopefully families can benefit.
Additionally, MPC and the same regional housing authorities are using supply-side strategies to increase the number of affordable rental homes available in attractive neighborhoods. Since 2002, through the Regional Housing Initiative (RHI), these housing authorities have been pooling a number of their Housing Choice Vouchers and converting them into project-based vouchers. These project-based vouchers remain with a development, rather than with a family, creating well-designed, well-managed, long-term affordable rental housing opportunities in communities near transit and employment centers. The RHI collaborative is addressing the deficit in affordable, quality rental housing, with currently more than 350 rental vouchers allocated amongst 21 mixed-income developments. The pilot will increase the capacity of RHI to manage a central, regional referral list of families interested in RHI apartments--- the goal being to better connect families with housing opportunities currently available.
Miesha’s comment reminded me that what drives this hard work—and make no mistake, it isn’t easy to change policies, shake up programs, and confront entrenched politics—are the families who need the support of stable roof over their heads, in a decent neighborhood. To make this a reality for them, I look forward to continuing to work together with developers, city officials, policymakers, and nonprofit groups to create a more equitable, stable region.