WBEZ | Politics http://www.wbez.org/news/politics Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Secret recording shows Uber's efforts to poach Chicago cabbies http://www.wbez.org/news/secret-recording-shows-ubers-efforts-poach-chicago-cabbies-110072 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP81700915726.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>For years, Chicago has struggled to recruit enough taxi drivers for the city. New competition from ridesharing companies is making that even harder. As the city looks to regulate those companies, it also seems to have abandoned its past policy of ensuring a robust corps of cabbies. Now, a secret audio recording reveals a newly aggressive push by the industry to persuade cabbies to become rideshare drivers.</p><p>WBEZ obtained the recording from a cab driver who attended a February information session at Uber offices in Chicago. The session was specifically to recruit taxi drivers to the company&rsquo;s popular ridesharing platform, called uberX.&nbsp; In it, an Uber representative pitches a room full of cabbies on the idea of dropping their cabs.</p><p>&ldquo;As Uber grows &ndash; this is why we&rsquo;re here today, is to teach you guys about the option that I think, quite frankly, is a little bit better for you guys in terms of your life and the cost,&rdquo; he told them.</p><p>UberX drivers get fewer fares than taxi drivers, but the company representative played up the advantages of switching from cab-driving to rideshare-driving. First, cab drivers wouldn&rsquo;t have to pay a weekly lease to use their vehicle anymore, because they&rsquo;d be able to use their personal cars. Taxi leases run anywhere from $400 to $700 a week.</p><p>Second, drivers could cash in on &ldquo;surge pricing&rdquo; &ndash; that&rsquo;s a term Uber uses for times of peak demand. The company hikes its fares during rush hour and when the weather&rsquo;s bad, sometimes charging up to seven times their normal rates. The representative told cab drivers in that session that if they got one taste of surge fares, they&rsquo;d want more.</p><p>&ldquo;It seems difficult to not drive a taxi in rush hour when you guys are taking a fare to the Loop &ndash; but just try uberX,&rdquo; he urged them, &ldquo;and you&rsquo;ll see that it might take a couple minutes longer to get that fare, but that fare will be at an increased rate.&rdquo;</p><p>WBEZ spoke with several taxi companies that say they are losing drivers to ridesharing. The question is, are fewer taxis good for the city?</p><p>The mayor&rsquo;s office wouldn&rsquo;t comment. Oddly, neither would the city&rsquo;s department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, which regulates the taxi industry. A spokeswoman said they don&rsquo;t care about driver numbers.</p><p>But they certainly did before. Last year, the department head was very vocal about a shortage of cab drivers.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve seen it dropping down over the past five or six years,&rdquo; said former Commissioner Rosemary Krimbel, at a Taxi Driver Recruitment Fair that the city co-hosted at Olive Harvey College last year. Krimbel said the city was short 2,000 cab drivers. She called that a problem, and said it was the city&rsquo;s job to fix it.</p><p>&ldquo;I think there&rsquo;s a solution,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;And I hope to increase the number of drivers and support them.&rdquo;</p><p>But now the city says it has no role in keeping enough taxis on the road. Some say that&rsquo;s not a wise position for the city to take.</p><p>&ldquo;I definitely think it&rsquo;s very important for the tourism industry to have outstanding taxi service,&rdquo; said Charles Goeldner, a professor emeritus of tourism and marketing at the University of Colorado. Goeldner literally wrote the textbook on tourism, called &ldquo;Tourism: Principles, Practices, Philosophies.&rdquo;</p><p>Goeldner said cities that are serious about tourism actively support their taxi industries. He says taxi drivers are ambassadors for the places where they drive. They offer visitors knowledge and predictability.</p><p>&ldquo;There has to be a trust element,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;and the taxi industry has always been regulated and licensed and has to meet certain requirements for cities.&rdquo;</p><p>Uber claims it holds its ridesharing drivers to high safety standards. It also talks a lot about promoting consumer choice in transportation. But if cab drivers heed Uber&rsquo;s call and switch to ridesharing &ndash; making rush hour commutes more expensive than ever &ndash; isn&rsquo;t that bad for consumers?</p><p>&ldquo;The goal is not to surge at rush hour,&rdquo; said Andrew MacDonald, Uber&rsquo;s Midwest Regional Director. &ldquo;But the pitch to drivers is &lsquo;Hey, right now we are undersupplied at rush hour, and so the opportunity is good to be on the Uber system.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>MacDonald said as more people, cabbies or not, sign up to drive for uberX, prices won&rsquo;t surge as much. That might push some cab drivers back into the taxi industry.<br />But for now, it might be harder than ever to get a taxi in the Loop during rush hour.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 24 Apr 2014 17:38:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/secret-recording-shows-ubers-efforts-poach-chicago-cabbies-110072 City Council panel passes plastic bag ban http://www.wbez.org/news/city-council-panel-passes-plastic-bag-ban-110070 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Plastic bag FILE - AP.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Big grocery stores and franchise retailers would be barred from giving out plastic bags to customers under a proposal approved Thursday by a Chicago City Council committee.</p><p>After months of negotiations and eventual buy-in from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the City Council&rsquo;s Health and Environment Committee approved a scaled-back version of the plastic bag ban that has long been pushed by 1st Ward Ald. Joe Moreno.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;We use three billion - billion with a &lsquo;b&rsquo; - of these [bags] every year,&rdquo; Moreno said. &ldquo;And, um, it&rsquo;s the old economy. These bags are terrible for the environment, terrible for our litter, and there&rsquo;s a better way and we&rsquo;re moving forward on that.&rdquo;</p><p>The ordinance still needs approval from the full City Council, which could happen as soon as next week.</p><p>The compromise ordinance would prohibit both franchise retailers and groups of &ldquo;chain&rdquo; stores - defined as three or more stores with the same owner - from distributing plastic carryout bags to customers. The stores would also be required to provide or sell recyclable paper bags, reusable bags or compostable plastic bags as an alternative.</p><p>The latest version of the plastic bag ban would not apply to independently-owned stores or restaurants, following concerns from some aldermen and industry groups that an outright prohibition would hurt mom-and-pop businesses who choose cheap plastic bags over more expensive types.</p><p>Stores that continue to distribute the banned bags would face fines of up to $500. Moreno is trying to sell the proposed ban as an environmentally friendly measure.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s our role, whether it&rsquo;s DDT or other chemicals, or coal-fired power plants [or] plastic bags made from natural gas - when the industry&rsquo;s not ready to move into...our century, then we have to act,&rdquo; Moreno said.</p><p>But some industry and business groups aren&rsquo;t buying it.</p><p>Supporters of the ban are overstating plastic bags&rsquo; detrimental environmental effects, charges Jonathan Perman, a spokesman for the <a href="http://plasticsindustry.org/apba/" target="_blank">American Progressive Bag Alliance</a>, a Washington, D.C.-based plastic bag lobbying group. He points to a <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/dam/city/depts/doe/general/RecyclingAndWasteMgmt_PDFs/WasteAndDiversionStudy/WasteCharacterizationReport.pdf" target="_blank">2010 City Hall study</a> that found &ldquo;grocery and merchandise bags&rdquo; accounted for less than one percent of the trash tonnage produced by Chicagoans.</p><p>Perman&rsquo;s group estimates there are about 3,000 jobs tied to the plastic bag manufacturing industry in Illinois. He said a ban would hurt business.</p><p>&ldquo;What we&rsquo;re doing in Chicago is we&rsquo;re making an absolutely absurd trade by saying we&rsquo;re gonna ban a product that&rsquo;s made in Chicago, and instead encourage people to use a synthetic or cloth or cotton bag that&rsquo;s imported from Asia,&rdquo; Perman said Thursday.</p><p>If approved by the full City Council next week, large stores over 10,000 square feet would be forced to stop handing out plastic bags by August 2015. Chain stores smaller than that would have an additional year to ditch the bags.</p></p> Thu, 24 Apr 2014 14:58:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/city-council-panel-passes-plastic-bag-ban-110070 Organic foods sold by Walmart create fear among some organic farmers and farm advocates http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/organic-foods-sold-walmart-create-fear-among-some-organic-farmers-and-farm-advocates <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/beans.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>On a bustling Saturday morning at Chicago&rsquo;s Green City Farmers Market, shoppers fill their canvas bags with organic grains, sauces, pasta and jams. These are staples of the Midwest winter farmers market season.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>But they also make up the bulk of Walmart&rsquo;s new Wild Oats <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/10/business/walmart-to-offer-organic-line-of-food-at-cut-rate-prices.html" target="_blank">organic line of pantry staples</a>--staples the retailer promises to price at about 25 percent lower than its competitors. Several items, including beans and olive oil, have already hit local shelves.</p><p>This kind of affordable organic has been the theoretical dream of the sustainable food community for decades. So then why is the move being greeted by so much suspicion?</p><p>&nbsp;Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse and one of the nation&rsquo;s biggest cheerleaders for organic seasonal food, has real questions about who will be hurt in the quest for cheaper organic.</p><p>&ldquo;It definitely scares me,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;I really feel like, when we are talking about cheap food, that somebody, somewhere is not being paid. And I am pretty certain that the person who is not being paid is the person raising that animal and tending that farm.&rdquo;</p><p>When WBEZ asked Walmart how it planned to source the organic materials for this discounted line, the retailer responded with a statement that:</p><p>&ldquo;We are working with Wild Oats to create a surety of demand which ultimately helps us pass along savings to our customers. We using our scale to deliver quality organic groceries to our customers for less.&rdquo;</p><p>But this equation of greater demand producing lower prices doesn&rsquo;t add up for folks like organic farmer Harry Carr of Mint Creek Farm in East Central Illinois.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s got everybody a bit perplexed,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;It doesn&rsquo;t make sense. I just can&rsquo;t see Walmart proactively choosing to improve the quality of their food and picking up the price differential because they are nice guys. We know that historically Walmart&rsquo;s strategy has been to price other retailers out of the market with their size and scope and economies of scale. They took away our main streets in exchange for big boxes and I don&rsquo;t think people look upon that very kindly.&rdquo;</p><p>Wild Oats CEO Tom Casey says he understands the confusion about how higher demand could create lower prices. But he says the farmers pay is only a small part of the food equation.<br />He notes the real savings will come from streamlining the now fragmented manufacturing, distribution and retail stages of the organic food chain.</p><p>Author and food journalist Ruth Reichl is also skeptical about sourcing, but she can see some real benefits to the move.</p><p>&ldquo;For all the people who want to eat organic food and don&rsquo;t want pesticides and so forth, it&rsquo;s a good thing,&rdquo; Reichl says. &ldquo;I think for down the road, for making organics mainstream it&rsquo;s a very good thing. But I think for small farmers who are now raising organic food it could prove disastrous. I think they way they are going to end up doing this is industrial organic and probably a lot of imported organic food.&rdquo;</p><p>Casey won&rsquo;t say what percentage of imported organic will go into Walmart&rsquo;s Wild Oats line but he acknowledges: &ldquo;there are certain products that are difficult to source effectively in the US right now. So we have a limited number of products we source internationally, but that would be typical of anybody sourcing organic products&hellip;.The key is that these products are organic certified and they have to meet these requirements no matter who&rsquo;s producing them.&rdquo;</p><p>While some worry that these discounted organics will put small organic family farmers out of business, Casey says that Walmart is simply trying to offer &ldquo;more choices.&rdquo;<br /><br />Jim Slama,&nbsp; president of Family Farmed.org, says he&rsquo;s not worried about the effect on small farmers because he believes they serve a totally different marketplace.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I think that someone growing on a family farm is going to be selling at a farmers market or maybe to local restaurants who will pay higher prices or maybe to Whole Foods or Marianos,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;But there is no way they have the scale to sell to Walmart and they are not going to take their price.&rdquo;</p><p>Plus, Slama says, there are real upsides for the environment if Walmart&rsquo;s demand pushes more farmers to adopt organic practices. These would require them to meet standards that preserve the quality of soil and water.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s going to transition quite a bit more land from conventional to organic because its providing new very large markets for organic products,&rdquo; he says.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>Harry Rhodes, who directs a group of Chicago organic farms called Growing Home, also sees pluses in Walmart&rsquo;s new organic push.<br />&ldquo;The more organic options everywhere lead to healthier food choices,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;So I think it&rsquo;s a win-win. I don&rsquo;t think it&rsquo;s competition or danger to anything we&rsquo;re doing.&rdquo;</p><p>Sean Shatto is the CSA manager for Tomato Mountain Organic. He was at Green City Market last weekend selling tomato sauces, CSA shares and spinach. For now, he takes the long view.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;It might turn people on to paying more attention to their food---maybe,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;And if that happens, then they might say, &lsquo;well I got this organic spinach at Walmart, maybe I&rsquo;ll go down to the farmers market to see what they&rsquo;ve got.&rsquo; Their jaw will drop the first time they walk by and see that my spinach is $10 a pound. But then I will hand them a leaf and it will taste 10 times better than what they are getting for a $1 a pound at Walmart. And then hopefully they&rsquo;ll come back.&rdquo;</p><p>With so little information about how the food will be sourced and how consumers will react, it&rsquo;s hard, even for critics, to draw firm conclusions. But Reichl says that one thing is certain.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s going to change the landscape for organics enormously,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Being an optimist, I would say that in the future, this is going to be good. But for right now it scares me.&rdquo;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the&nbsp;</em><em><strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/content/chewing-fat-podcast-louisa-chu-and-monica-eng">Chewing the Fat</a></strong></em><em>&nbsp;podcast. Follow her at&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng">@monicaeng</a>&nbsp;or write to her at&nbsp;</em><em><a href="mailto:meng@wbez.org">meng@wbez.org</a></em><br />&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 24 Apr 2014 14:51:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/organic-foods-sold-walmart-create-fear-among-some-organic-farmers-and-farm-advocates Senator Kirk joins Revolution in backing Small BREW Act http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/senator-kirk-joins-revolution-backing-small-brew-act-110068 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/photo_42.JPG" alt="" /><p></p> Thu, 24 Apr 2014 12:23:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/senator-kirk-joins-revolution-backing-small-brew-act-110068 Mayors' group pushes for Illinois pension reform http://www.wbez.org/news/mayors-group-pushes-illinois-pension-reform-110052 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP237949791222.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A group of Illinois mayors is calling for an overhaul to local pension systems for police and fire departments, but it&#39;s unclear if state lawmakers will take up the issue anytime soon.</p><p>No legislation has been drafted and negotiations are in a preliminary stage.</p><p>Mayors from communities including Rockford, Aurora, Peoria and several Chicago suburbs spoke Monday. Among the suggested ideas are raising the retirement age and lower annual cost-of-living adjustments.</p><p>The mayors say pension problems are &quot;choking local government budgets&quot; and warn some communities will have to raise property taxes or cut services to cover pension obligations.</p><p>The effort comes after lawmakers approved legislation overhauling two Chicago pension funds. It hasn&#39;t been signed into law yet.</p><p>Pension programs are created by state law, so only legislators can approve changes.</p></p> Mon, 21 Apr 2014 12:02:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/mayors-group-pushes-illinois-pension-reform-110052 Nine Illinois lawmakers vote to fund Obama library - but only five members in attendance http://www.wbez.org/news/nine-illinois-lawmakers-vote-fund-obama-library-only-five-members-attendance-110042 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP942082181766.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois State House members are advancing a bill that would devote $100 million toward a Barack Obama presidential library. The House Executive Committee meeting in Chicago today voted, by an official tally of 9-0, to authorize using state money for the library.</p><p>Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel testified in favor of the legislation. So did representatives from several Chicago universities, including Anthony Young, who is chairman of the board at Chicago State University.</p><p>&ldquo;The legacy of President Obama has been and will continue to be one of restoring hope in America,&rdquo; Young testified. &ldquo;We feel that it&rsquo;s only fitting that the physical symbol of that legacy, his presidential library, be built in the community where his message of hope first took shape.&rdquo;</p><p>Hawaii, where Obama was born, and New York, where he went to college, also want to house the presidential library.</p><p>Nine representatives were recorded as voting for the bill, even though there were five lawmakers in attendance at the hearing. That is because Rep. Bob Rita (D-Blue Island), who chairs the Executive Committee, employed a procedural move.</p><p>Rita used the attendance record from a previous hearing that occurred Wednesday as the vote for the presidential library cash. House Speaker Michael Madigan, who sat in on today&rsquo;s hearing, clarified Rita&rsquo;s maneuver, saying the attendance would serve as nine votes in favor of the library, even though the previous committee hearing was on a possible Chicago casino and not related to a presidential library.</p><p>No Republicans attended Thursday&rsquo;s hearing on the presidential library.</p><p>Rep. Ed Sullivan (R-Mundelein) was marked as voting yes on the measure, even though he did not attend Thursday&rsquo;s hearing and was working at his non-legislative job. He had attended Wednesday&rsquo;s hearing on gambling expansion.</p><p>Sullivan said he was under the impression Thursday&rsquo;s hearing was only to hear testimony about the presidential library, and no votes would be taken.</p><p>&ldquo;They&rsquo;ve broken the trust and I think they&rsquo;ve done something illegal,&rdquo; Sullivan said of the procedural move. &ldquo;The legacy of a potential Obama library shouldn&rsquo;t start out as a result of an illegal act.&rdquo;</p><p>Sullivan said he would be filing a protest against using the attendance of Wednesday&rsquo;s hearing as the vote record in favor of state money for the library. In a phone interview, Sullivan said he wants Madigan, as the sponsor of the library bill, to table the proposal for now.</p><p>Steve Brown, a spokesman for Madigan, said it is not uncommon for committees to recess until the call of the chair. And it is within the rights of the committee chairman to use the attendance from the previous meeting as a vote.</p><p>&ldquo;The chairman asked for leave to use the attendance roll call. There was no objection and so that was the vote that will be recorded,&rdquo; Brown said.</p><p>But Sullivan said the move sets a bad precedent for what remains of the legislative session, which is scheduled to end next month.</p><p>&ldquo;It galls me. It literally galls me,&rdquo; Sullivan said. &ldquo;I guess it shouldn&rsquo;t gall me. They seem to try and do anything that they want to do in a very sneakily way.&rdquo;</p><p>Sullivan said he would support a presidential library using private money, but not public funds. He said that money is needed for education.</p><p>None of the five Democrats who attended Thursday&rsquo;s hearing spoke out against the bill that calls for $100 million of state money to go toward the potential presidential library.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/tonyjarnold">@tonyjarnold</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 17 Apr 2014 17:21:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/nine-illinois-lawmakers-vote-fund-obama-library-only-five-members-attendance-110042 FBI agents say indicted state rep took them to get bribe cash http://www.wbez.org/news/fbi-agents-say-indicted-state-rep-took-them-get-bribe-cash-110027 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/derricksmith.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Federal prosecutors say indicted Illinois State Rep. Derrick Smith took FBI agents to his house and turned over cash he had allegedly taken as a bribe. But Smith&rsquo;s attorneys are trying to make sure that information does not come up at his pending trial.</p><p>Smith was arrested more than two years ago and charged with taking $7,000 in exchange for writing a letter of support for a daycare operator applying for a grant.</p><p>In a new court filing, federal prosecutors say Smith repeatedly told FBI agents after he was read his Miranda rights that he &ldquo;f***ed up&rdquo; -- and never should&rsquo;ve written the letter or taken the $7,000.</p><p>&ldquo;Smith stated that it was all about getting money to put money back out on the streets in the hands of his campaign workers,&rdquo; FBI agents Bryan Butler and Timothy Keese wrote in the report, made public Monday, that is a government exhibit in his court case.</p><p>The agents wrote that Smith even took FBI agents to his house and turned over the remaining $2,500 from the alleged $7,000 bribe. Smith, before he was arrested, had already given some money to the campaign worker who had secretly recorded him, as pay for the assistant&rsquo;s work, and to another individual not identified by FBI agents in their report.</p><p>Smith&rsquo;s defense attorneys say the comments he made to the FBI following his arrest should not be allowed at trial because Smith thought they were part of his plea negotiations.</p><p>Prosecutors say Smith made those comments before an attorney entered the room. And even then, they say, the federal prosecutor did not negotiate a plea deal with him.</p><p>Smith was appointed to the Illinois House in 2011. The agents write Smith was &ldquo;going crazy&rdquo; about a primary challenger he faced in the March 2012 election. They say Smith told them he did not want to lose the election, but needed money to pay campaign workers so they would stay loyal to his campaign.</p><p>Smith, who represents parts of Chicago&rsquo;s West and North sides, defeated Tom Swiss in the 2012 Democratic primary. Other Democrats had encouraged primary voters to support Smith despite his arrest, claiming that Swiss was a Republican running as a Democrat.</p><p>After Smith won the primary, Illinois House members voted to expel him from the chamber -- in an act that had not been done in 100 years. But Smith had already won the primary, remained on the ballot and won election back to the state House that November.</p><p>Smith, however, will not be returning to Springfield next year. He lost his bid for another term in office to attorney Pamela Reaves-Harris in the Democratic primary last month.</p><p><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https%3A%2F%2Ftwitter.com%2Ftonyjarnold&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNFPSylltvw6suohIk5BgHodNjZYxg">@tonyjarnold</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 15 Apr 2014 13:15:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/fbi-agents-say-indicted-state-rep-took-them-get-bribe-cash-110027 Woman alleges housing voucher discrimination in pricey Chicago buildings http://www.wbez.org/news/woman-alleges-housing-voucher-discrimination-pricey-chicago-buildings-110023 <p><p>Tiara is a African-American mother of two small children who longed for a better Chicago public school for her six-year-old son.</p><p>Last year, Tiara decided to move out of Bronzeville and began searching for apartments in the pricey River North area.</p><p>But when she mentioned she had a housing choice voucher, or Section 8, landlords told Tiara they wouldn&rsquo;t take her voucher. A few places said &ldquo;yes&rdquo; over the phone. So she&rsquo;d arrive on time, with a paycheck stub and a rental deposit. But no matter -- Tiara says those places rejected her too.</p><p><a href="http://www.thecha.org/filebin/2014_Mobility_Program_Flier_FINAL.pdf" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/map.PNG" style="height: 521px; width: 400px; float: right;" title="CHA Opportunity Area Map (Courtesy of the CHA)" /></a>Tiara is painfully shy and asked that her last name not be used. As she recounted her story, Tiara dabbed her teary eyes with a tissue.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve never experienced anything like this. I couldn&rsquo;t believe it. It still took me awhile to like really come to the fact that I was discriminated against. That hurt so bad,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Tiara filed complaints against four property owners and management companies with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations. The complaints are currently under review.</p><p>Tiara&rsquo;s allegations aren&rsquo;t occurring in a vacuum. Earlier this month, the Chicago Lawyers&rsquo; Committee for Civil Rights Under Law&nbsp;issued a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/new-report-reveals-pervasive-discrimination-housing-voucher-program-109946">report that found rampant racial discrimination in housing.</a></p><p>Tens of thousands of Chicago families rent in the private market using a housing voucher. Renters with vouchers only have to pay a portion of their rent. The Chicago Housing Authority administers the program and picks up the rest. CHA has been criticized for putting families in poor segregated neighborhoods in the city.</p><p>In 2011, the public housing agency started&nbsp;a <a href="http://www.thecha.org/pages/mobility_counseling/2639.php">mobility program</a>. In&nbsp;very limited cases, CHA will pay more in rent if a family moves to so-called &ldquo;opportunity areas.&rdquo; About 10 percent of voucher holders are in this program.</p><p>Opportunity areas are communities with fewer than 20 percent in poverty and low-subsidized housing saturation. That&rsquo;s how Tiara was able to consider high rises with monthly rents upwards of $3,000 a month.</p><p>&ldquo;It allows families an opportunity to explore areas of the city that they might not otherwise be familiar with,&rdquo; said Mary Howard, executive vice president of resident services for CHA.</p><p>Many neighborhoods with the highest number of vouchers also have the highest poverty and crime rates in the city.</p><p>&ldquo;Families that live in opportunity areas on average have higher earnings than those that do not live in opportunity areas,&rdquo; Howard said. She added that these areas can have higher retention rates. &ldquo;So that once a family does move and becomes integrated in their new community, that they&rsquo;re not moving is success.&rdquo;</p><p>In segregated Chicago, North Side neighborhoods may seem inaccessible for some families in the voucher program. There can be feelings of isolation. CHA has mobility counselors who try to alleviate those concerns.</p><p>But that was never an issue for Tiara. She said in her case it was pushback from the rental community. It&rsquo;s illegal for Chicago landlords to say at the outset that they won&rsquo;t take Section 8 vouchers.</p><p>Danielle McCain is an attorney with the Chicago Lawyers&rsquo; Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and she represents Tiara.</p><p>&ldquo;We want her voice heard as a voucher holder. We want these landlords to have to address these issues. Whatever damages we&rsquo;re able to recover, those are ways in which we can influence landlords going forward not to have conduct such as this in the future,&rdquo; McCain said.</p><p>McClain said housing voucher discrimination is common, and not just in affluent areas. She pointed to her group&rsquo;s&nbsp;recent <a href="http://cafha.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/CLCCRUL-CHA-testing-report.pdf">report</a> as evidence, but also says a lot of discrimination goes unreported.</p><p>As for Tiara, she eventually found a happy ending in a Streeterville apartment building that accepted her voucher.</p><p>&ldquo;I love it,&rdquo; Tiara said. &ldquo;You have parks everywhere. You have bus stops everywhere. You have stores, easy to get to. Healthy food. Healthy food almost everywhere. So it&rsquo;s more like convenience.&rdquo;</p><p>And most importantly, Tiara said, her six-year-old son attends a high-performing public school. And he&rsquo;s thriving.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/nmoore-0" rel="author">Natalie Moore</a> is WBEZ&rsquo;s South Side Bureau reporter. <a href="mailto:nmoore@wbez.org">nmoore@wbez.org</a></em></p><p><em>Follow Natalie on <a href="https://plus.google.com//104033432051539426343" rel="me">Google+</a>, &nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/natalieymoore">Twitter</a></em></p></p> Mon, 14 Apr 2014 17:52:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/woman-alleges-housing-voucher-discrimination-pricey-chicago-buildings-110023 Judge orders Indiana couple's marriage recognized http://www.wbez.org/news/judge-orders-indiana-couples-marriage-recognized-110008 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Capture_6.PNG" alt="" /><p><p>A ruling Thursday morning by U.S. District Court Judge Richard L. Young requires the state of Indiana to recognize the marriage of a local gay couple. Starting today Niki Quasney and Amy Sandler are Indiana&rsquo;s only legally recognized same-sex couple.</p><p>But only for about a month.</p><p>The temporary restraining order expires in 28 days. The judge made the ruling after an hour-long hearing in Evansville in far southern Indiana.</p><p>The longtime couple who live near Chicago in Munster, Indiana, got married last year in Massachusetts.</p><p>Indiana, however, does not allow same-sex marriage.</p><p>But Quasney is terminally ill with stage 4 ovarian cancer, so they sued to have their marriage recognized&mdash;that way Sandler can receive death benefits afforded other married couples.</p><p>&ldquo;We are happy the court made the decision to recognize their marriage so she can focus on spending quality time in the days she has left with her family,&rdquo; the couple&rsquo;s attorney Paul Castillo said.</p><p>Indiana Attorney General Solicitor General argued against the injunction, stating that under current state law, the marriage statute does not allow for hardship exceptions and the relief sought could not be granted.</p><p>The decision does not affect four other lawsuits challenging Indiana&rsquo;s gay marriage ban.</p><p>Although county clerks in Indiana are still prohibited from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Castillo sees it as a positive step forward for gay couples.</p><p>&ldquo;Our goal is to make sure that same-sex couples throughout the state both have an ability to get married within their home state and have their valid out-of-state marriages recognized,&rdquo; Castillo said.</p><p>The issue of same-sex marriage remains a hotly debated issue in Indiana, although opposition isn&rsquo;t as strong as it used to be, even as recently as four years ago.</p><p>An effort to write Indiana&rsquo;s same-sex ban into the state&rsquo;s constitution failed in the Indiana General Assembly in the most recent session that ended in March.</p><p>The marriage amendment was opposed by many major corporations and public universities. &nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 10 Apr 2014 16:04:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/judge-orders-indiana-couples-marriage-recognized-110008 Mayor Emanuel’s pension plan headed to governor http://www.wbez.org/news/mayor-emanuel%E2%80%99s-pension-plan-headed-governor-109989 <p><p>Controversial legislation that would change the retirement benefits of some City of Chicago employees raced through the state legislature on Tuesday and is now headed for Gov. Pat Quinn&#39;s desk.</p><p>The plan, backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, cleared the State House of Representatives on a 73-41 vote. A few hours later, it passed through the State Senate on a 31-23 vote. Gov. Pat Quinn has not said whether he&#39;ll sign the plan, which is opposed by several powerful city workers&#39; unions because it scales back benefits for retirees.</p><p>The debate on the House floor largely centered around what would happen to the two pension funds for city laborers and municipal workers if they continued their current benefit structure. City officials had warned lawmakers the retirement funds could run out of money to pay retirees their benefits within 10 years.</p><p>&ldquo;The numbers alone would behoove us to take action and pass this bill,&rdquo; said Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, who sponsored the bill for &nbsp;Emanuel.</p><p>Of the two pensions affected, the municipal pension is currently funded at 37 percent, while the laborers&rsquo; system is funded at 55 percent.</p><p>&ldquo;These plans will be out of money, insolvent, bankrupt, unable to pay any of their obligations in somewhere between 10 and 15 years,&rdquo; said State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Buffalo Grove.</p><p>Most of the opposition came from members of the black caucus, who represent parts of Chicago, and suburban and downstate Republicans, who warned that the legislation depends on the city council to raise property taxes.</p><p>&ldquo;If&nbsp; you vote for this bill, you are voting for at least $2 billion of higher property taxes over the next 10 years,&rdquo; said Rep. David McSweeney, R-Cary.</p><p>An earlier version of the bill required Chicago&rsquo;s city council to approve a property tax increase, but Speaker Madigan removed that language after objections from several lawmakers.</p><p>The bill&rsquo;s main goal is to pump more money into the Chicago pension funds for city laborers and municipal workers, while scaling back benefits to cut costs. Under the proposal, the city would finally scratch the inadequate funding formula it has used for decades, which experts say is a big reason the city&rsquo;s retirement systems are now in such dire shape.</p><p>Much of that ramped up funding would come from Emanuel&rsquo;s proposal to raise Chicago property taxes by $50 million a year, ultimately netting the city $750 million more revenue over the next five years. For the owner of a $250,000 home, that would cost about $58 dollars more per year on their property tax bills, according to the mayor&rsquo;s office.</p><p>Lest City Hall try to wriggle out of its pension obligations during tough budget times, the bill also gives pension funds the power to sue the city if it fails to pay up. By 2018, the pension funds would also be able to garnish all state grant money headed for the Chicago if the city fails to meet its obligations.</p><p>City workers, meanwhile, would pay more money into the system but get less out of it. By 2019, they&rsquo;d be paying 11 percent of each paycheck toward their pension, compared with the current 8.5 percent. That contribution would drop back down to 9.75% once the pension funds are healthy, which could take decades.</p><p>The bill also does away with the annual, compounding 3 percent benefit increases that have been blamed for much of the strain on the laborers and municipal workers&rsquo; pension funds. Instead, workers would now see their pension checks increase each year by a flat 3 percent or half the rate of inflation, whichever is less. And most workers wouldn&rsquo;t receive any increases in 2017, 2019 and 2025.</p><p>Retirees who earn less than $22,000 would be guaranteed to see their benefits grow by at least 1% a year, and also would not be subject to the three years of skipped increases.</p></p> Tue, 08 Apr 2014 14:17:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/mayor-emanuel%E2%80%99s-pension-plan-headed-governor-109989