Public housing residents get help with utility bills

The Chicago Housing Authority is expanding a utility assistance program, All Clear, that helps residents catch up on paying overdue utility bills.

Residents who owe $500 or less on their gas or electric bills can sign up for All Clear. They agree to pay half of the amount overdue. CHA and utility companies pay the other half.

"We hope that people will have an opportunity to catch up and then keep up," says Andy Teitelman, vice president of resident services at CHA.

Teitleman says CHA began the program as a way to stretch its utility assistance dollars and help residents stay compliant with their leases, thereby avoiding eviction.

"The program gives people a chance to figure out the way to pay their bills without the burden of the big bill that's accumulated," says Teitelman.

Last year, ComEd gave $100,000, which CHA matched, to the All Clear fund. Around 1500 families participated in 2008. One year later 43 percent of participants are still current on their bill.

The program is a one-time assistance program, designed to be a "hand up, not a hand out," says Teitelman.

This year, the partnership with ComEd continued, and Peoples Gas also decided to participate. Around 5,000 letters have been sent out to public housing families behind on their bills.

"This has been a really tough economic time," says Rodrigo Sierra, spokesperson for Peoples Gas. "We know that a lot of our customers are going to be struggling to pay their bills."

ComEd spokesperson Jeff Burdick says the company tries to do everything it can to keep customers from losing their service.

"The idea is to assist customers and to get them back on their feet and back on a regular billing cycle," says Burdick.

Residents who have questions about the program can call the CHA at (312) 913-7616 or email questions to allclear@thecha.org.

Staff Writer Megan Cottrell covers public housing for the Daily News. She can be reached at 773-362-5002, ext. 12, or megan [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.

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