Month: February 2016

No Place To Go

The refugee crisis in the Middle East has focused primarily on Syria and the waves of refugees washing ashore on the Mediterranean beaches of Greece and Italy.  However, there is an equally disturbing crisis in Iraq, where thousands of Sunni Muslims have fled their homes as ISIS and Iraqi forces fight for control of strategic cities.  Most do not have the resources to escape Iraq, and the result is that they are refugees in their own country.

A recent Newsweek article highlighted their plight and focused on over 4000 families that have taken refuge at a dilapidated resort along the beach of Lake Habbaniya where they have no electricity, running water or sanitation.  Because Iraq is controlled by Shiite Muslims, they have little trust in the Iraqi government to protect them.  And ISIS has often been the cause of destruction and death in Sunni communities. They are literally between a rock and a hard place.

Read the poem “HOME” by Warsan Shire to get a sense of the desperate conditions and the frightful experience of refugees around the world.

The full Newsweek article can be found HERE.

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Thinking Things Can’t Get Worse? Think Again!

It’s been a bad year for people in Illinois–especially those who are most vulnerable.  Without a budget, the social safety net has been torn to shreds.  Lutheran Social Services eliminated 30 programs and laid off workers.  Catholic Charities is considering lay-offs and program cuts as well.  MAP (Monetary Assistance Program) grants for low-income college students have been suspended.  Chicago State University may not survive the semester.  And if  you are homeless and you thought things couldn’t get worse… think again.

The $310 million the State of Illinois set aside in a special fund to provide housing for homeless youth, fund supportive housing, and provide rental assistance for low-income families will not be disbursed unless the legislature passes a special bill–and that is questionable. The funds are sitting there, ready to be used.  But the funds may end up being “swept” into the general fund to help fill the budget deficit.  The Biblical phrase that comes to mind is, “Woe!  Woe to you, Springfield!”  OK, so it doesn’t say, “Springfield”, but it could.

Read more about the budget impasse and the impact on homeless individuals and families HERE.

CHA Vouchers in the News…Again

First, the Chicago Housing Authority was chastised for sitting on Housing Choice Vouchers (aka Section 8).  Then, under pressure, the CHA activated their waiting list and released thousands of vouchers–giving recipients 90 days to find an apartment.  That sounds easy, but given Chicago’s tight rental market and history of housing discrimination, 90 days isn’t always enough.  Just ask Kiya Powell and Sandra Edwards.  Because they missed the 90-day window and were denied an extension by CHA, they lost their vouchers.

Read the full story HERE.  And if you want to see what people think about Housing Choice Vouchers, read the comments.  How do you respond to Powell’s predicament?

Architecture Critic is Critical of Lathrop Home’s “Social Architecture”

Blair Kamin, the architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune, covered the Plan Commission meeting on Thursday, February 18, highlighting the opposition to the Lathrop Homes plan and adding his own questions about what he called “the social architecture” of a plan that does not adequately address the loss of units for low-income families in a desirable north side location. Read his article HERE.

Is This a Home?

To get to the subway, I walk under the Kennedy Expressway overpass at Belmont and Kedzie.  Correction.  I walk through the bedrooms of dozens of men and women who call the viaduct ‘hoIMG_1257me’.  Every time I pass by, I feel uncomfortable–like I’m invading their privacy.  But I also feel deeply disturbed and angry.  These people are literally kicked to the curb. And they are routinely harassed by the police, treated like criminals and their belongings confiscated.

I often hear people say, “They should go to a shelter.”  FYI.  There are NO overnight shelters located in the 60618 or the 60647 zip codes–the area surrounding the viaduct.  There used to be shelters, but the city cut funds for homeless services.  And just yesterday, the Mayor-appointed city Plan Commission just approved the elimination of 525 units of public housing at Lathrop Homes, 12 blocks away from the viaduct, replacing them with almost 500 units of housing for the wealthy.  It makes me ask who the real criminals are.

 

We Caused Quite A Stir

Today, a group of Lathrop Homes public housing residents and allies including pastors and members of Logan Square churches descended on the city Plan Commission to oppose the Lathrop Homes Planned Development (rezoning) application.  There was quite a stir!

After more than 3 hours of powerful public testimony by advocates of public housing, preservationists, residents and pastors that raised serious questions about the elimination of public housing units and gentrification, some of the commissioners began asking tough questions of the CHA and the development team.  Several times, those in the gallery began singing, “Whose side are you on? Oh, whose side are you on?”  As the vote was taken, you could hear the song being hummed in the background.

In the end, the Planned Development application was approved, BUT….  It was not unanimous AND it came with several restrictions on CHA moving forward.  We’ve been told that dissenting votes are  unprecedented.  The Spirit was moving.

Now, we take the fight for housing justice to the City Council Zoning Committee next month when the Council will consider the zoning changes approved today.  We will be there again, asking the Aldermen on the committee, “Whose Side Are You On?”  We trust the Spirit will stir things up there too.

Read Pastor Ray’s testimony before the Plan Commission HERE.

The Dark Side of the (Housing) Force

A trend over the last 40 years is for young (predominantly white) artists, students and professionals to move into poorer urban communities of color in what has become known as “gentrification.” Property values increase, new capitol comes into the community, and crime rates often fall. Cities often encourage this shift because it represents development and increased revenue. However, as good as all this sounds, “gentrification” has a dark side. According to Teresa Cordova in her article “Community Intervention Efforts to Oppose Gentrification” (In Philip W. Nyden, Wim Wiewel, eds., Challenging Uneven Development: An Urban Agenda for the 1990s, (1991) New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 25-48.),

“gentrification is a creation of real estate agents, property developers, and banks who control the “who” and “where” of urban property shifts.”

In other words, those with power see a way to profit through a shift in the way urban property is reused. In addition, as property values increase, property taxes and rents rise, often making the community unaffordable for existing homeowners and tenants. Families are forced to find a more affordable community. It also promotes speculative land purchases as people look for the next “hot” neighborhood. Buy a cheap property, hold on to it and then flip it for a large profit. We are watching this this phenomena happening in Logan Square—especially along the Bloomingdale Trail. What was once an affordable community for immigrants and low-income families has now become the most recent “hot neighborhood” in Chicago.

This process of “re-urbanization” (and subsequent “sub-urbanization” and “ex-urbanization” of the poor) is happening across the country.  Millennials–many who grew up in suburbs and who are seeking community connections, walkable communities, and a vibrant night life–are being targeted by developers.  In Logan Square, a vast majority of new housing developments are studio and 1 bedroom units and are marketed to single people or young couples.  There is little room for families, and few of the units are truly “affordable.”

Take Action for Housing Justice

We are fasting to provide homes for others.  Fasting leads us to ACTION!  This week, take your fast to 2 important actions to ensure that struggling families and individuals will have safe, affordable housing.

  1.  Attend the “Keeping the Promise” ordinance hearing on Wednesday, February 17, at City Hall starting with a 9:00 am Press Conference.  Add your voice to the call to hold the Chicago Housing Authority accountable to its mission–providing housing for the poor.

    Over the past 15 years, thousands of public housing units have been torn down to make room for “mixed-income” communities.  The CHA promised to replace all the units that had been destroyed, but they have not kept their promise.

    In addition, thousands of public housing units have been left empty throughout the city–including over 750 units at Lathrop Homes.  But the CHA continues to receive $10,000 annually for each of those empty units from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.  (The CHA receives no oversight from HUD thanks to an agreement between former Mayor Richard M. Daley and the Clinton administration.) Meanwhile, 1000’s of families languish on CHA waiting lists.

    Passage of the “Keeping the Promise” ordinance will give the City Council oversight of the Chicago Housing Authority and force the CHA to keep its promises to the people of Chicago.

  2. Attend the city Plan Commission meeting on Thursday, February 18, at City Hall starting at 10:00 am.  Help to make sure that the Lathrop Homes Planned Development (rezoning) application is not considered at this meeting.

The planned redevelopment of Lathrop Homes cannot proceed without changes in the zoning of the property.  1st Ward Alderman, Joe Moreno, has publicly promised to hold up the development until the Chicago Housing Authority demonstrates ‘How’, ‘When’ and ‘Where’ it would replace the 525 units of public housing that would be eliminated at Lathrop Homes.

However, the application is currently on the agenda of the Plan Commission, the first step toward passage.

If you cannot attend these important meetings, PRAY that God will speak powerfully through those who give testimony and will turn the hearts of our elected officials toward justice and mercy.

 

Valentine’s Day for Our Neighbors

In just a few days, we will shower our significant others with flowers, candy, gifts and food and wine as part of our annual observance of Valentine’s Day.  In the process, we are expected to spend close to $20 billion (with a ‘B’).  That’s a lot of LOVE!  But what if we took just 1% of that to “love our neighbors as ourselves” this year?  We could free up $200 million and give hundreds of people the gift of home.

How are you celebrating Valentine’s Day? Consider spending just a little less and giving the money you save toward our Lenten Compact project to ‘make a home’ for a refugee family.

Public Prophetic Prayer

Each morning throughout Lent, we are taking our Compact for housing justice to the streets through public prophetic prayer and protest.  A full list of locations will be posted at 40 Days of Prayer and Protest.  Here is a list of locations for February 11-13.

Thursday, February 11 – 7 am at California Blue Line El station just down the street from the construction site of the Logan Square Towers–two new luxury high-rises that will displace working families from Logan Square.

Friday, February 12 – 7 am at 2525 N. Milwaukee, the former Milshire Hotel, a single room occupancy (SRO) hotel that was closed in November, 2014, displacing dozens of low-income tenants.  The property remains boarded up.

Saturday, February 13 – 9:30 am at Wellington and Damen, near Lathrop Homes which is slated for a redevelopment that will replace of 525 units of public housing with 500 units of housing for the wealthy.