CHA to reopen housing voucher wait list

The Chicago Housing Authority is reopening the waiting list for housing vouchers after more than a decade, likely sparking a flood of applications for the 40,000 available slots.

"This is an opportunity for people to get a break," says Crystal Palmer, president of the Henry Horner Homes local council.

But getting onto the list is not the same as getting housing.

Mimi Chedid, policy coordinator for Housing Action Illinois, says the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has no plans to increase the number of available housing vouchers, which tenants apply toward rent on market-rate homes.

There are approximately 47,000 vouchers in circulation in Chicago, according to a 2007 study by the nonprofit Heartland Alliance. Unless HUD increases the number of vouchers or current voucher holders die or become ineligible, being on the waiting list may not mean much.

"They might get onto the list, but they won't move off," Chedid says.

CEO Lewis Jordan announced the reopening at a CHA board meeting today and promised more details at a press conference on Thursday.

Despite Jordan's public announcement and the fact that the CHA posted wait list information on its own website, CHA spokesman Bryan Zises tried to impose an "embargo" against reporting on the announcement until the press conference.

Zises told a Chi-Town Daily News reporter today that he would be "very upset" if the online newspaper published the news prior to the Thursday press conference. He said the agency's communications office would not cooperate with the publication on future stories if the embargo was not observed.

People who wish to have their names included on the wait list must register for a lottery. The CHA will randomly draw 40,000 names from the pool and will randomly assign them a place on the waiting list.

People can register by mail or online. There is no need to be first to register for the lottery, since everyone who registers within four weeks will have an equal chance of being first on the list.

"You don't have to stand in line anymore," Palmer says. "Just go to a computer and fill out the paperwork."

Everyone who registers for the lottery will receive a letter informing them of whether they have been selected for the list. The 40,000 Chicagoans who make it - and qualify for the program - will receive vouchers, if they're available.

The housing agency wants to include residents from all over the city and also to add new landlords to the program, Jordan says.

The soon-to-be-open wait list is great news for low-income families who've suffered from the city's lack of affordable housing, says Richard Wheelock, head of the Housing Project for the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago.

A report released in early April by Housing Action Illinois and the National Low Income Housing Coalition states that someone earning Illinois' minimum wage, $7.50 an hour, would need to work 97 hours a week, 52 weeks a year to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Chicago.

"Once it is open, there's going to be a deluge of phone calls and requests for families to have their names put on the list," Wheelock says. "There's such a huge degree of pent-up demand for any type of subsidized housing."

Up-to-date information on the wait list is available by calling a CHA hotline at (312) 786-3676.