As more poor people leave Chicago for the suburbs, the Housing Authority of Cook County has seen greater demand for public housing just outside the city.
So for the first time in more than a decade, the county plans to open up its waitlist for low-income housing vouchers.
“In the last several years, we’ve seen what’s called the suburbanization of poverty,” said Richard Monocchio, executive director of the county’s Housing Authority. “Right now, we have as many poor people living outside the city of Chicago as there are inside the city.”
The move comes as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and other county leaders plan to launch an Affordable Housing Task Force this spring to study ways to boost low-income housing options. And Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot hosted a daylong summit about ending poverty on Thursday.
The county Housing Authority helps about 60,000 people a year find a place to live, whether in county-owned buildings or with a voucher to rent from private landlords.
The Housing Authority currently has about 13,500 vouchers in use and 5,000 people on the waiting list. To make sure every voucher always gets used, the housing authority wants to expand that waiting list.
“We want to make sure we have people on the list to lease vouchers to when they become available,” Monocchio said.
The agency has been chipping away at the waitlist as people leave county-owned buildings and voucher programs, Monocchio said. The Housing Authority also has tied some vouchers to private suburban developments to help increase housing options. Vouchers typically cover 70% of rent, while residents pay the rest.
In 2019, individuals who qualified were capped at making around $31,000 a year. Families of four earned just under $45,000.
The Housing Authority plans to open the waitlist in the next few months and have a lottery to give people a spot. Monocchio said the list could be capped at about 10,000 people so it’s realistic to get them into a home in a reasonable amount of time, rather than have the list includes tens of thousands of people who could wait for years.
The Housing Authority has been investing about $225 million to rehab its high-rise buildings. Next up, the agency plans to build new housing for the first time in about a decade with a mixed-income building in north suburban Evanston and one for veterans in south suburban Chicago Heights.
Kristen Schorsch covers Cook County politics for WBEZ. Follow her @kschorsch.