With organizing from the CHI Coalition, Aldermen Chris Taliaferro -29th Ward and Walter Burnett- 27th Ward introduced the Public Health and Housing COVID-19 Emergency Ordinance (PHO) to move medically-vulnerable individuals and families from congregate living facilities, which have been rendered unsafe by the corona-virus pandemic into 1,250 vacant Chicago Housing Authority public housing units as identified via FOIA - CHA records request. The ordinance requires that entities receiving City Council funding both meet the national standard of a 97% occupancy rate for their affordable housing stock and to maintain an average 60-day vacant unit turn-around time to re-lease a subsidized apartment after someone moves out.
“We have to respond stop the spread of this disease and save the lives of our must vulnerable citizens. So, the ordinance directs owners and operators of subsidized housing, receiving City Council funds, to establish a new leasing preference for 20% of their affordable apartments that prioritizes access for medically-vulnerable households and individuals in unsafe congregate living facilities, for the next 24 months. These include homeless shelters, nursing facilities, detention centers and jails,” said Ald. Walter Burnett – Co-Sponsor of the (PHO).
“While Illinois is currently in Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois Plan, cases in Cook County are once again on the rise. The ability for the county to stay in Phase 4 will depend on case counts and hospital bed capacity. Under the current guidelines, no more than 50 individuals should congregate indoors, using public health precautions such as social distancing and face coverings and hand hygiene practices when doing so. Re-housing the population who typically utilize congregate housing into current vacancies across the state that provide better physical separation of residents into smaller groups (<5) in individual domiciles (units) would be preferred,” advises Dr. Susan Cheng of the Illinois Public Health Association of the Executive Council.
COVID-19 has killed over 140,000 Americans and that number is continuing to climb. Being homeless or living in congregate facilities including homeless shelters, detention centers, jails, and nursing facilities should not be the death sentence it is now and will continue to be as the virus spreads. Congregate settings have accounted for at least 19% of the spread of COVID infections and 36% of corona-virus deaths. The virus has not disappeared or lessened in its transmission and lethality. Epidemiologists predict that the next 18-24 months, until a vaccine for COVID-19 is identified and widely disseminated, that death and infection rates will continue to rise. The personal ability to “shelter-at-home”, self-quarantine and “social distance” are impossible within most congregate settings or tent encampments.
“While Aldermen don’t directly control the leasing or occupancy practices of the Chicago Housing Authority, we control the purse strings and have an obligation to protect the health of everyone in Chicago and respond this public health emergency,” added Don Washington, Executive Director of the Chicago Housing Initiative