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Marcia Fudge speaks while Lori Lightfoot stands in background

Mayor Lori Lightfoot listens as U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge speaks during a news conference at the Brainerd Park Apartments on the South Side, announcing a $60 million grant to the city of Chicago to fight homelessness, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023.

Ashlee Rezin

U.S. Housing Secretary Marcia Fudge gives Chicago $60 million to fight homelessness

The city of Chicago is receiving $60 million to address homelessness — one of the largest awards from a $315 million pot the U.S. Department of Housing of and Urban Development is doling out to cities and counties across the country.

HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge made the announcement Thursday at the Brainerd Park Apartments in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood on the city’s South Side.

“The president and vice president have made it a priority to address homelessness in this country because it is a crisis,” Fudge told WBEZ. “And so we are trying to advance equity. That’s one of the things that the president talked about from day one.”

Fudge said she picked Chicago for the announcement partially because of its “amazing” grant proposal — “one of the best we’ve ever seen” — and to highlight the need for homeless services here.

“We tend to focus a lot of our attention on the coasts. I am from the heartland. And we have problems as well,” Fudge said, later joking that it didn’t hurt that Chicago was only a one-hour flight away.

The grants will come in the form of direct aid and housing vouchers as part of a package to help communities provide housing and supportive services to people without shelter.

The Chicago Housing Authority is one of the largest public housing agencies in the country, and the largest owner of rental housing in the city, making it an important partner in addressing the unhoused, said its CEO Tracey Scott. “It’s an ongoing challenge in Chicago and cities across the country.”

Fudge’s announcement comes just a week after the city began its annual point in time count of people experiencing homelessness. It’s how the city determines the number of people living on Chicago streets. That number is then used to calculate how much of the city’s social service budget should be dedicated to homeless services.

Last year’s count was well over 500,000 people and nearly half are considered “unsheltered,” meaning they have nowhere else to sleep. Fudge said over the last few years, her agency has noticed a concerning trend.

“As sheltered homelessness goes down, unsheltered homelessness goes up,” Fudge said, adding that this is why HUD is directing resources to the unsheltered population.

Meanwhile, Fudge is also looking to strengthen a law that requires municipalities to prove they are working to mitigate segregationist housing policies or risk losing federal housing dollars.

The 1968 Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination but also directs HUD to ensure the agency and its program participants take proactive steps to overcome patterns of segregation, promote fair housing choice and foster inclusive communities.

The law was strengthened in 2015 under former President Barack Obama under the so-called “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” rule. Under the change, municipalities receiving money from HUD were asked to take a proactive step in ending racial segregation. But enforcement has been limited. It didn’t help that it was temporarily removed under former President Donald J. Trump.

Fudge fold WBEZ it’s a matter of enforcing a law that’s already on the books.

“But we also want to be clear to people that we intend to enforce the Fair Housing Act,” Fudge said. “So we’re asking communities to give us a plan that addresses discrimination and segregation that we can then hold them to and assess their work going forward.”

That’s why the purpose in this latest revision remains the same. These rules have been put in place as a way to break from past tradition where housing funds were used to foster segregation and inequality of housing.

There is no better illustration of that than in Chicago under former Mayor Richard J. Daley, who built many of the public housing high-rises that have since been demolished. Built in mostly Black neighborhoods, they were once called filing cabinets in the sky for the city’s poor, a way to keep Black residents concentrated in high-poverty areas of the city.

Decades later, his son Mayor Richard M. Daley would demolish many of those high rises under the Plan for Transformation, a program to overhaul the city’s public housing stock. The plan is still not finished.

And in the suburbs, many municipalities today use zoning laws to perpetuate the cycle of housing segregation.

This latest revision of the Fair Housing Act could ensure those promises are kept — even if it’s decades after the fact. The update requires “participants” like the Chicago Housing Authority put together an equity plan that establishes goals and priorities for ensuring equity in housing. If housing authorities or municipalities don’t comply, the authority could cut off federal aid.

“We’ve tried to streamline the rule so that it’s not onerous to people, but we want them to make a commitment that they are going to do work,” Fudge said.

Claudia Morell covers general assignments, government and transit issues for WBEZ.

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