Pilot helping Chicago-area voucher holders ‘move up’ - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Pilot helping Chicago-area voucher holders ‘move up’

Interfaith Housing Development Corporation

This apartment building in downtown Oak Park includes some units with subsidized rents for low-income families.

On Friday, Oct. 3, the Chicago Tribune printed the Metropolitan Planning Council's (MPC) letter to the editor in response to their article "Struggles continue for many CHA voucher holders" [paywall]. The article pointed out that, although vouchers are intended to help families live in strong communities—places with good jobs, quality schools, and retail and transportation optionsmany families with vouchers remain in disinvested neighborhoods, for a variety of reasons.

MPC is working with the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development and eight regional housing authorities to ensure these vouchers really do encourage families to live in communities where they have opportunities to improve their lives:

In theory, low-income families with housing choice vouchers can rent homes in any community with better opportunities—but in practice, most of the 60,000 Illinois families with vouchers are not “moving up” to a place with access to critical basics: quality schools, good jobs and reliable public transportation.

Why is this happening? For starters, many of our region’s stable communities lack rental homes affordable to families with vouchers; creating new options is too often a tough sell, both because of community opposition and complex financing. In the relatively rare case that a quality, affordable rental home or apartment is available, families with vouchers are sometimes the last to know—plus they may be reluctant to leave a community they’ve known all their lives, even for the promise of a better life.

In Chicagoland, a pilot funded by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development is testing a fresh solution. Eight public housing authorities across metropolitan Chicago are putting their heads together and pooling their resources to create more opportunities for low-income families to live in places where they can move up the economic ladder. The pilot also offers counseling, provided by the nonprofit Housing Choice Partners, and other incentives to help families with vouchers weigh all of their options before making a move.

Through collaboration and leadership, the Chicago region is creating a model for the rest of the nation. The Metropolitan Planning Council helped design the pilot and is studying the outcomes to identify how to shift both public and private investments in affordable housing to achieve the results we all want to see: families living better lives today and setting their children up for success tomorrow.

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