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CHA Residents Complete Year One of Work Requirement

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CHA Residents Complete Year One of Work Requirement

CHA resident Margaret Riley. (WBEZ/Natalie Moore)

Finding work in this economy can be a challenge. But Chicago Housing Authority residents are mandated to get a job. If they don’t, they may face eviction. It’s all because of a new work requirement put into effect a year ago. So far, no one has been kicked out of public housing. In fact, the number of CHA residents working remains steady. So does their average salary of about $18,000 a year. But housing officials say more leaseholders are now enrolled in educational programs. It’s part of the agency’s plan to make residents self sufficient.

2009 Chicago Housing Authority Work Requirement Stats:
•44 percent compliant
•Of that 44 percent: 56 percent working; 27 percent in school; 17 percent working and in school
•28 percent exempt
•19 percent safe harbor
•9 percent noncompliant

Brian Hill is directing a hospitality program at Harold Washington College. He drills the 35 students in the room like an eager spelling bee coach.

ambi: training program

Most of his pupils are public housing residents. They wear a uniform of gold polo-style shirts as they toil toward earning food sanitation licenses. That license might be their winning ticket to jobs in the fast-food or hotel industries.

CHA foots the bill for the program, part of its effort to train residents who want to join or get back into the workforce.

CHA resident Margaret Riley says this class is just the beginning for her.

RILEY: I’m going for another certification, which is nutrition so that I can go into the hospital and teach people how to take care of themselves as far eating and exercising properly like that. Because I am Type 2 diabetic and I know how to put it in remission so I want to teach other people how to do that.

Riley says CHA should do a better job of promoting its job training programs.

RILEY: CHA need to do something so that they residents need to do something to get the word out to their residents because it’s an excellent program and I think more people would involve themselves in it if they knew about it.

Others like Stephanie Villinski agree.

Villinski is an attorney with the Legal Assistance Foundation, which often represents public housing residents.

VILLINSKI: I’m still surprised when I go out and talk to people about the work requirement and questions that come up and people don’t know about the city colleges program.

This recent work requirement calls on residents ages 18 to 61 who live traditional and senior public housing to join the workforce. Forty-four percent of 7,700 eligible CHA residents are complying. They are working, going to school fulltime or doing a combination of work and school.

Mary Howard heads resident services for CHA.

She says there’s been a 20 percent increase this past year in people going back to school or taking part in job readiness.

HOWARD: Despite the recession, typically has entry-level jobs available; whether that’s fast-food industry, some of the catering businesses have not been as sorely hit and so with a food sanitation certificate it’s quite easy to become employed without a lengthy education process.

There are residents who can’t work. Twenty-eight percent are exempt because of disability or childcare. Nineteen percent are in the safe harbor program. They proved they had tried to find a job, with no luck.

CHA’s Howard says these numbers prove that most residents are willing to work, casting aside stereotypes of public housing residents as work averse. Nine percent of residents are still noncompliant however. They are in the pipeline for hearings and that could lead to eviction.

Attorney Stephanie Villinski criticizes CHA for threatening eviction when there’s a recession.

VILLINSKI: Eviction is more than a little harsh to implement as the punishment for not working especially in this economy when it’s almost as bad as the Great Depression.

This year residents are expected to work more: the required hours will increase from 15 hours to 20 hours a week.

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