CCHD: Supporting affordable housing in Chicago

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Thursday, October 26, 2017

It’s hard for families to get ahead when they must decide between paying rent and paying for food or medicine. It’s harder when they don’t have a roof over their head at all.

The goal of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development is to help people living in poverty change the systems that keep them there. Safe, affordable housing is one thing that can make a real difference.

“Housing is not only a basic human right, but also an essential condition for building relationships, families and communities that reflect Catholic values of dignity, participation and self-determination,” said Elizabeth Young, CCHD project coordinator for the Archdiocese of Chicago. “Without a safe and affordable place to call home, it becomes nearly impossible to break the cycle of poverty that traps so many of our brothers and sisters.”

Preserving and creating affordable housing is the goal of the Chicago Housing Initiative, one of 21 groups in the Archdiocese of Chicago who are receiving CCHD grants this year. Organizations from Cook and Lake counties will receive $495,000 in grants; six will get funding from the national campaign; 15 will come from the portion of the money raised in the archdiocese that stays under local control. This year’s CCHD collection will be taken up at Masses the weekend of Nov. 18-19.

The Chicago Housing initiative received $10,000 this year to continue its work. It was founded in 2007 as a coalition of community organizations, each of whose missions touch on housing. It is advocating for subsidized housing from the Chicago Housing Authority, for the preservation of affordable housing and for the construction of new affordable housing, especially in neighborhoods that are close to jobs., said Leah Levinger, executive director of the initiative.

The last time the CHA opened up its waiting list for subsidized housing, 244,000 Chicago families applied, she said, and at least a third of Chicago renters are “rent-burdened,” meaning they have to choose between rent and other essential expenses.

The lack of affordable housing is the “flip side of the living-wage issue,” Levinger said, noting that a minimum-wage worker in Chicago would have to work 80 hours a week to afford the average rent on a two-bedroom apartment.

Building the supply of affordable housing means convincing not just public officials and developers, but also people in the neighborhoods. CHI’s biggest campaign of the past several months has been to work toward approval and funding for a new building that would create 80 affordable apartments on Northwest Highway west of Milwaukee Avenue in Jefferson Park.

“If you look at a heat map of Chicago of where the jobs are, the Northwest Side is right there,” Levinger said. “You have O’Hare and all the jobs that surround it, and the whole Rosemont area.”

Most of the affordable housing that exists in Chicago is on the South and West sides, meaning that some people must spend hours each day commuting on public transportation to get to a minimum wage job. Getting more affordable housing on the Northwest Side is a justice issue, she said.

The proposal has met with stiff resistance from some neighborhood residents – Levinger’s tires have been slashed twice – and a warm welcome from others.
The proposal calls for a 100-unit building, with 80 units designated as “affordable” at different price points. The maximum a family could make to qualify for the affordable apartments is $44,000 for a family of four.

Levinger said that people who oppose the plan seem to fear that everyone who needs affordable housing is involved in crime or drugs, or is a person of color, and will make the neighborhood less safe.

“They seem to have real misconceptions about who is poor and why,” she said.

Developers will soon know whether they can get the funding they need to make the project work. 

In the meantime, she said, she is reaching out to the community, especially to Catholics, to help them understand the need for affordable housing.

“This is an issue that has many connections with Catholic social teaching,” she said. “We shouldn’t marginalize the poor. We should move them to the center of our community. The hope is that people will come to see this as a way to live out Jesus’ teaching on service to the poor and inclusion of the poor.”



  • catholic campaign for human development
  • cchd

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