Chicago program to put poor people into subsidized luxury apartments encounters flak

In Chicago, poor people receiving Section 8 housing vouchers are being encouraged to move into nicer neighborhoods and apartments that are beyond the reach of many middle class taxpayers, sparking an interesting public controversy.  NPR’s Chicago affiliate WBEZ has publicized the situation, but of course the thrust of the story is victimology – a black would be tenant who has been turned down from luxury apartment buildings and has filed a complaint with the Chicago Housing Authority. From the WBEZ report, by Natalie Moore:

Tiara is a African-American mother of two small children who longed for a better Chicago public school for her six-year-old son.

Last year, Tiara decided to move out of Bronzeville and began searching for apartments in the pricey River North area.

River North (via Wikipedia)

But when she mentioned she had a housing choice voucher, or Section 8, landlords told Tiara they wouldn’t take her voucher. A few places said “yes” over the phone. So she’d arrive on time, with a paycheck stub and a rental deposit. But no matter -- Tiara says those places rejected her too.

But the report also manages to include some details of the program that enables poor people to live better than many of the taxpayers supporting her rent:

In 2011, the public housing agency started a mobility program. In very limited cases, CHA will pay more in rent if a family moves to so-called “opportunity areas.” About 10 percent of voucher holders are in this program.

Opportunity areas are communities with fewer than 20 percent in poverty and low-subsidized housing saturation. That’s how Tiara was able to consider high rises with monthly rents upwards of $3,000 a month.

“It allows families an opportunity to explore areas of the city that they might not otherwise be familiar with,” said Mary Howard, executive vice president of resident services for CHA.

The most interesting part of the story, however, lies in the comments, many of which are rather scathing, so much so that one commenter defending the woman complains that they read like comments in a Fox News site, and expresses shock that NPR listeners would think such politically incorrect thoughts.

Left unmentioned by the reporter (who also defends herself in the comments)is the key factor in most rejections of prospective tenants, whether or not they are using Section 8 vouchers: the credit report. Tenants are required to pay part of the rent, and landlords have a genuine need to know if the tenant has a good enough credit report to indicate he or she will make the rent payments on time.

Landlords who have experience with Section 8 tenants have told me that they must be meticulous in documenting each rental inquiry and the credit reports reviewed in order to guard against exactly such discrimination suits. It may be that landlords of luxury buildings, unused to dealing with Section 8 tenants, were not sufficiently careful int heir documentation, leaving them vulnerable to substantial judgments against them

Tiara, the focus of the WBEZ story, may thus enjoy a double bonanza: a luxury apartment courtesy of taxpayers' subsidy  plus a pile of money extracted from the landlords who passed on the opportunity to host her and her family.

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