Two months after East Chicago residents learned they’d have to move due to unsafe levels of lead in their neighborhood, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has reached out directly to federal officials about the situation.
Pence wrote to and called Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro on Tuesday, asking about details of the relocation process for more than 1,000 residents of West Calumet Housing Complex. Most of them are minorities, nearly 94 percent, and 551 are children.
This marks the governor’s first public, personal involvement since the emergency began in July.
Pence writes that he’s grateful for “the $1.1 million in HUD funding that will be available to the East Chicago Housing Authority to assist with relocation.” Technically, that money isn’t new – it’s the Housing Authority’s capital fund, made up of HUD money and built up over time.
In his letter, Pence also asks for HUD’s plans to ensure everyone in the complex finds suitably-sized, affordable homes.
The governor’s office declined an interview request, but Pence spokesman Matt Lloyd told Indiana Public Broadcasting on Twitter that the “state has been very aggressive within its jurisdiction,” but “HUD has primary jurisdiction.”
The state has allocated some staff, and $200,000 in funds for blood testing and moving expenses. It also loaned $3 million to the city school district for relocating students from a school next to the housing complex.
HUD spokesman Jerry Brown says HUD is responsible for housing assistance and is working through the local housing authority.
He said Pence and Castro had a “good conversation” and called the governor’s requests “completely reasonable,” but declined to comment further before the agency had responded to the governor directly.
HUD’s Midwest spokeswoman, Gina Rodriguez, said in an email Wednesday that eight families from West Calumet have found new housing so far. She said officials have completed all but 10 of nearly 300 individual meetings to give out Section 8 housing vouchers to families in the complex.
Residents have 60 days from when they got their voucher, in addition to two 30-day extensions, to find an eligible place to live in or outside of the city. Rodriguez said they’re working to be “extremely flexible” with each family’s case.
She also confirmed that the East Chicago Housing Authority’s capital fund could cover utilities and rent at residents’ new homes, as well as security deposits, moving transportation costs and utility hook-up fees. HUD would not normally cover the latter expenses, she said.
Spokesman Nick Meyer of the Northern Indiana Public Service Company wrote in an email Monday that the utility isn’t requiring deposits for customers from West Calumet to get service at a new location.
“If they have an outstanding bill from their prior location, they are not required to pay the full amount up front and a credit agreement will be established,” Meyer said in his email.
Rodriguez, the HUD spokeswoman, said they’re also working with Illinois utilities “to defray set-up costs” for residents who choose to leave Indiana.
A representative at Illinois’ Commonwealth Edison wasn’t aware of the East Chicago situation as of Monday. Requests for comment from Nicor, the gas company, weren’t immediately returned.