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How the Public Health and Housing COVID-19 Emergency Ordinance Can Blunt the Impact of a Pandemic

Public Health and Housing COVID-19 Emergency Ordinance – EXPLAINER

The Chicago Housing Initiative is a citywide coalition of housing advocacy organizations composed of Chicagoans who have homes, without homes and at risk of homelessness. COVID 19, the kind of virus that epidemiologists have been predicting would reach this country for over a decade, has killed over a quarter of a million Americans and rising. The failure of the federal government to create and deploy public policy to protect our population from this virus is unconscionable. What is clear is that the federal authorities have abandoned cities and states. So, here in Illinois it has been left to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the State Assembly and to Mayor Lightfoot and the City Council to create public policy to protect the public’s health, mitigate the damage the federal government’s inaction has done to us and to meet the needs of ordinary people in this dangerous and chaotic time.

We realize that this is only a first step as the COVID-19 death and infection rates continue 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 coronavirus deaths. The virus has not disappeared or lessened transmission and lethality. Epidemiologists predict that the next 18-24 months, until or even if, 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. COVID is revealing how dangerous and inadequate our policies of warehousing the homeless and not valuing people who need public housing enough to make it available are. We need to provide stable, secure and long-term housing to protect public health.

The Public Health and Housing COVID-19 Emergency Ordinance (PHO) will:

· CREATE A PREFERENCE – that moves medically-vulnerable individuals and families from congregate living facilities, which have been rendered unsafe by the coronavirus pandemic into one of the identified 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 across their portfolio.

· It will require the CHA to maintain an average 60-day vacant unit turn-around time to re-lease a subsidized apartment after someone moves out.

· It creates some public policy infrastructure that will be in place not just for COVID-19 but afterwards to protect medically vulnerable people as well as the rest of the population from a contagious disease.

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