Alexandrea Navedo, 19, walked up to the Chicago Housing Authority's top official and showed him a picture in her wallet of her young son and daughter.
"This right here is what you're displacing," she says to Chief Executive Officer Lewis Jordan. "This is what has no home."
Navedo spoke Tuesday evening during a
meeting held by the housing agency to allow people to comment on
proposed changes to the Moving to Work program, which governs many aspects of life in the city's public housing.
A crowd of roughly 200 people attended to decry changes regarding work requirements and resident representation, as well as other purported agency failings outside the meeting's immediate scope. Navedo's comments matched the tone of the meeting: personal, angry and righteous.
"We're getting the runaround here."
"Someone else is getting paid."
"What is wrong with you people?"
There were yells, there were cheers, there were repeated invocations of the power of the people. There were quiet, tense conversations between CHA officials and people refusing to surrender the microphone, and with people who decided they didn't need a microphone, only strong lungs.
Speakers voiced their thoughts with the force and anger of people who feel no one has listened to them.
The agency will provide transcripts of the meeting and will respond in writing to individual remarks within 30 days, said CHA spokesman Bryan Zises. The public can continue to submit comments in writing until March 28.
"We received comments," Zises says. "We're going to do what we're supposed to do with them. (The Moving to Work agreement) is HUD's document."
Actually, the idea that HUD and not the CHA wants to change the Moving to Work agreement is "completely false," said Richard Wheelock, an attorney for the Central Advisory Council, which represents all tenants.
HUD does use boilerplate language in the agreement's first three sections to impose uniformity upon the housing agencies participating in its Moving to Work program, Wheelock says. The program allows housing agencies to request waivers of federal law in order to do what they think is necessary to improve public housing in their cities.The Moving to Work agreement allows the CHA to avoid meeting federal requirements that would stand in the way of the agency's $1.6 billion Plan for Transformation.
The agreement's fifth section, which garnered the most complaints at Tuesday's meeting, contains the waivers the CHA is requesting from HUD.
"The whole point of the MTW program is to give the housing authority what it needs, not for HUD in Washington to dictate what it needs," he says.
Residents' dissatisfaction with new CHA work requirements surfaced repeatedly at Tuesday's meeting. The agency plans to impose the requirements on all residents, regardless of whether they live in mixed-income communities or traditional public housing.
Every adult between 18 and 62 will need to work or train for work at least 15 hours a week starting in July. The only exceptions are for the disabled, their caretakers, the retired, single parents with children younger than one year and primary caretakers with children younger than 13 - provided another adult in the household is working.
Those who don't comply face eviction.
Dora Delaola, who uses a housing voucher, says she had no problem with working, but she wanted a job that made allowances for her family's health problems. She is scheduled for kidney stone surgery and also has an 8-year-old son with coffin siris syndrome. She worries employers will punish her for missing days because of illness.
"Just find me something where if I don't feel good they're not going to fire me," she says.
Robert Whitfield, another attorney for the CAC, said the council does not oppose the work requirements, but the CHA should proceed slowly and make more allowances for parents who need child care.
He also questioned the CHA's determination to plow ahead with the requirements even as the U.S. Labor Department reports the economy has lost 80,000 jobs in the last two months.
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) addressed the same subject, saying he'd talked with well-schooled job candidates who'd had trouble finding work too.
"If people with Ph.Ds can't find a job, how do you think people without education can find jobs?" he asked.
Many others voiced concern over the prospect of a single, CHA-appointed ombudsman addressing the problems of residents in mixed-income communities rather than elected Local Advisory Councils, which have represented residents for more than 35 years.
The ombudsman would hold at least two meetings a year and write responses to questions and complaints at least 20 hours a week. But some questioned whether an employee paid by the housing agency could truly stand up for residents.
"It's the equivalent of having a union shop run by the employer," Wheelock says.