So what can we do, right now? - Metropolitan Planning Council

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So what can we do, right now?

In this unprecedented moment, here’s a curated list of actions you can support

Image courtesy John W. Iwanski via Flickr CC

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Few beyond epidemiologists saw this coming. In a matter of days, all of our best-laid plans were put on pause. The streets are deserted while our sidewalks fill with walkers craving fresh air. Train cars and buses run virtually empty at rush hour. People are staying at home. Many are losing their jobs, struggling to feed their family and pay their bills. Countless trips and special events have been postponed. And we can’t know how long this will last.

It’s easy to feel powerless right now, disingenuous to pretend to have all of the answers. And yet, we are wired to do something that will make a difference. Together. Because at MPC, we believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive.

Here’s a list of initiatives that our staff have helped shape in recent days, all worthy of your support right now.

The need for cash With many workers experiencing a sudden loss of wages as businesses shut down, the need for flexible cash to make ends meet is clear as ever. “Every family situation is unique, and now is not the time to fall back on a funding orthodoxy that prioritizes programs over individual agency,” wrote Ebony Scott, Chicago director of the Family Independence Initiative (FII), and former alderman Ameya Pawar in a recent Chicago Tribune op-ed advocating for a local cash transfer program. One effort to provide cash relief to local workers is the #GiveTogetherNow Chicago Fund, launched by FII, the City of Chicago, and the IL Cash Coalition (of which the Metropolitan Planning Council is a member). This fund is for individuals who will be left out of expected national relief efforts. You can donate now to assist households facing financial hardship due to the pandemic. Funds will distributed as a one-time cash transfer to help supplement lost wages. 

Juan Sebastian Arias, Manager

Twitter: @_jsarias

The need for more nonprofit resources. The Chicago Community Trust and United Way of Metro Chicago, in collaboration with the City of Chicago, took swift action to unlock additional funding for nonprofits across our region. More than $3.5 million in grants has been deployed for the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund which aids the organizations that serve our communities' most vulnerable neighbors. The area's health and human service organizations are experiencing a surge in demand for services from neighbors and communities significantly impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. It’s critical that these organizations have the resources they need to continue to operate at the highest capacity. You can donate now to the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund and help deepen the impact of this nimble, vital new resource.

MarySue Barrett, President

Twitter: @MarySueMPC

The need for housing stability. These unusual times have revealed vulnerabilities across our society. is Crucial for stability, access to housing is increasingly important. We commend the City of Chicago for securing 2,000 hotel rooms to be used for self-isolation and for individuals experiencing homelessness. We applaud local and national efforts to put a short-term moratorium on evictions understanding many workers will be unable to make rent or mortgage payments as the economy slows. At the same time, we know additional relief will be needed to ensure renters, homeowners, and "mom and pop" landlords are not met with months of overdue payments when the moratorium is lifted. The policy and advocacy landscape for housing relief is quickly shifting. You can stay up to date with national efforts by joining the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s weekly briefing Mondays at 1:30 CT. You can also see the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless’ recommendations for action here.

Juan Sebastian Arias, Manager

Twitter: @_jsarias

The need for water. The reality is many people either have unreliable access to water, or no trust for the water that they have. Maybe their water was shut off after a missed bill, or they suspect they have lead pipes, or maybe they just can’t pay the bill. Fortunately, Gov. Pritzker has requested that water utilities in Illinois place a moratorium on future water shutoffs. Food and Water Watch is tracking which communities have done so across the county. That moratorium is a good start, but we need to reconnect water that has been shut off already. It’s less clear which communities are doing that. The City of Aurora is, and according to the Illinois chapter of the American Water Works Association, many smaller communities in Illinois (where there are fewer reconnections to be made) are as well. It’s a much bigger challenge for large communities, and an extreme one for Chicago. Additionally, the reality of needing to provide water to folks who might not be able to pay for it right now, plus the shutdown of many water-consuming sectors of the economy has left water utilities in dire financial straits. DC Water recently signaled the need for assistance to utilities in any sort of federal stimulus package, and there are proposals on the table in Congress to assist utilities for lost revenues.

Josh Ellis, Vice President

Twitter: @MPCJosh

The need to support our nation’s public transportation. People are advised not to leave their homes right now, if they can. But, many essential workers are indeed still commuting to their jobs including at grocery stores, hardware stores, and hospitals.   For front-line workers - and for all of us who depend on them - trains and buses are a lifeline. Despite the recent sharp drop in ridership due to the Governor’s stay-at-home order for all nonessential workers, we need to keep transit operating.  Over the past several days, transit activists around the country have communicated with our elected officials to ensure transit was included in the federal stimulus bill that was passed by the Senate March 25 and is expected to be approved by the House tomorrow.  We need transit now and will need it for our economic recovery. Fortunately, $25B will be distributed to transit agencies nationally, including to Chicago’s CTA, Metra and Pace, as well as Amtrak.   Thank you to all who spoke up in support of transit.  Please thank our federal delegation for their hard work protecting our critical transit network in Chicago.  

Audrey Wennink, Director of Transportation

Twitter: @awennink

We’ll come out of this public health crisis a different region and nation. Our hope is that we will have learned something—something about priorities, taking care of each other, slowing down, and about what matters. And that we’ll emerge a better, bolder, more equitable region.


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For more than 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments to unleash the greatness of the Chicago region. We believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive. To tackle the toughest urban planning and development challenges, we create collaborations that change perceptions, conversations—and the status quo. Read more about our work »

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