CHA Residents Suffer from Childcare Shortage

January 7, 2008

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As we continue our exploration of home life in Chicago, we move our attention to public housing. The Chicago Housing Authority is close to the deadline officials set for the Plan for Transformation. That plan calls for building and rehabbing 25,000—replacing the high-rise developments the agency has been demolishing. The CHA also pledges to reform its own structure and administration. And later this year, new work requirements for residents take effect. Public housing residents will have to put in at least 15 hours a week at a job or school, or else face eviction. But some parents of young children are worried that the shortage of childcare options puts them in a delicate predicament. Chicago Public Radio's Natalie Moore reports.

Laila is a cheerful two-year-old with dark, curly hair who smiles a lot. But she has severe asthma.

ambi of bath water

RAMIREZ: Ever since she's been six months, she's been sick. So my last job I was missing a lot her always grabbing to be at the doctor and I can't take her to daycare with a temperature so I have to stay home with her. So now I'm working a part-time job and just seeing how that goes.

Veronica Ramirez gives her daughter a bath before bedtime. She worries that the new CHA work rule might get her kicked out. She lives with her mother in a CHA scattered site apartment in Humboldt Park.

RAMIREZ: She gets a lot of infections and viruses. The asthma, she gets a lot of coughs. So she'll be up all night and sometimes I'll be in the emergency room with her because of that. She was just sick two days ago. She had a fever.

Ramirez has been laid off in the past for taking off of work because of Laila's condition. Other family members work so they can't help take care of Laila and daycare facilities say she's too ill if she has a fever.

Illinois Action for Children is an advocacy group that's done studies citing the need for childcare on the Chicago region. One report found that the Riverdale neighborhood -- where the CHA Altgeld Gardens complex is -- has only two child care centers. There are no slots for infants and only four slots for two year olds.

CHA officials say the new work requirement is not punitive. There's a 90-day safe harbor clause that allows residents to stay in their apartment if they prove that they can't find work. That also applies to parents who find work but not a babysitter.

KAISER: They indicate to the property manager that they were unsuccessful in finding adequate childcare. They'll make a referral to Illinois Action for Children and our other providers that will be able to sort of loop them back into the system.

That's Linda Kaiser, managing director of resident services for the housing authority.

KAISER: Childcare is a challenge that everyone faces and we feel like we put a lot of support in place to meet that challenge.

Parents with children under one years old are exempt from the work rule. Other residents can get childcare referrals from Illinois Action for Children. The group has a database of 8,000 childcare providers in Cook County.

Parents can also register a non-licensed provider such as a family member, neighbor or friend. That caregiver could receive a small stipend of around $55 a week from the IAC.

ambi: humboldt park apartment

In her Humboldt Park apartment, Veronica Ramirez helps Laila use her nebulizer. Leila does this four times a day to help her with asthma. She doesn't cry and her favorite television characters are a welcome distraction.

Carmen Ramirez is Laila's grandmother. She hopes daughter Veronica's new clerical job works out. But she's seen how her granddaughter's health condition has made it hard for Veronica. And she wonders if the new CHA rule is fair.

CARMEN RAMIREZ: I like the rule that they should work but there's gotta be exceptions because what is she going to do? I'm not going to kick her out. My daughter's not lazy. I know there's a lot of people who abuse the system and stuff but they're those people that don't. She wants to work. She wants to get out of here and be independent.

The new rule takes effect in July.

I'm Natalie Moore, Chicago Public Radio.