CHA Work Requirement Doesn’t Lift Residents Out Of Poverty | WBEZ
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Chicago’s Public Housing Residents Work But Don’t See Income Growth

Public housing residents in Chicago are largely compliant with a requirement that they hold jobs, but a study of the policy shows residents aren’t moving out of poverty or seeing significant increases in their paychecks.

The nonprofit Urban Institute released a research report on Tuesday that analyzes CHA’s 10-year-old work requirement, which mandates any non-disabled adult between the ages of 18 to 54 must participate. School and training programs count toward the requirement.

Of 30,000 CHA residents, approximately 5,000 are subject to the policy. Ninety-four percent were compliant or qualified for exemptions: 54 percent were working; 23 were in “safe harbor,” a probationary period that gives residents 90 days to find work; 17 percent qualified for an exception; and 6 percent did not meet the requirement.

The household-level average annual income per person subject to the work requirement barely budged from $11,568 in 2010 to $12,712 in 2017, according to the report.

“People say they’re working jobs where there aren’t benefits or they’re seasonal jobs or they’re piecing together part-time jobs,” said Diane Levy, one of the study’s authors.

Residents also said the high cost of child care prevents them from moving into market rate housing because their incomes simply aren’t high enough.

“Some of the challenges really have to do with the options out there for employment. That’s beyond what any public housing agency can be responsible for,” Levy said. She said CHA’s support services are helpful to residents.

The study points out that CHA is not punitive toward the 6 percent who are not meeting the work requirement. No one has been evicted.

Only one in six CHA residents are subject to the policy. Seniors and people with disabilities are exempt. Residents with children under 5 years old are exempt, too.

Levy said CHA staff told the Urban Institute that most public housing residents were already working or wanted to work prior to the requirement. When CHA first proposed the work requirement, many advocates were concerned about the timing — the policy came during the economic recession.

Residents who lived in the Cabrini-Green and Henry Horner Homes before the 2009 policy implementation are exempt from the work requirement because of legal agreements negotiated as part of redevelopment.  

Marie Claire Tran-Leung is an attorney with the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. She works with residents in Horner who are not subject to the work requirement but work anyway. She said a work requirement doesn’t lead to good jobs.

“The problem is getting work that will help them to support their families and get out of poverty. That will help the residents the most,” Tran-Leung said.

Natalie Moore is a reporter on WBEZ's Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @natalieymoore.

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