I appreciate the Reader's mention of the Chicago Housing Authority in the recent article ["Paradise Lost," November 26] about Jim Fuerst's new book, When Public Housing Was Paradise. However, I'd like to take this opportunity to clarify a few ongoing misconceptions about CHA's Plan for Transformation which were included in the commentary.
We agree that it takes a sizable commitment of resources from a number of different agencies in order to support residents with multiple challenges beyond housing. We also agree that resident screening is vital to the success of safe, stable housing. Many CHA residents will tell you that Chicago's public housing deteriorated when the rules, including screening, became lax.
However, it is inaccurate to suggest that our screening criteria are "impossible for residents to meet" and that we have "replaced them with, quote, 'better' families." At least one-third of our residents are already likely to qualify for the mixed-income housing, based on their work histories and other pertinent information. Recognizing that some residents may need more assistance, the CHA recently increased its social service budget to $20 million and revamped its service-provider system so that a wide range of services are more accessible than ever before. Every leaseholder who lived in CHA housing as of October 1999, when the plan began, has the legal right to return to a new or rehabbed unit. This means that families who are unable to move into one of the new mixed-income communities still have access to a rehabbed unit at a traditional public-housing site.
Finally, we require criminal background checks for all public-housing residents, not just those who are interested in obtaining a unit in one of the new mixed-income communities. This is a federal policy, which CHA is required to follow.
The CHA's Plan for Transformation is the largest overhaul of public housing ever undertaken in the nation's history and will have far-reaching effects. It is our goal to reverse the isolation and despair that has plagued Chicago's public-housing residents for decades and ensure that they have every opportunity to achieve self-sufficiency. We want our residents to know that public housing can be a stepping-stone in their journey--it doesn't have to be a final stop.
Please feel free to contact us directly if you should require any further information.
Chief executive officer,
Chicago Housing Authority