Chicago Tribune, April 16, 2008: Chicago Housing Authority to hold lottery for Section 8 voucher waiting list

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By Sara Olkon

Tribune reporter

11:41 PM CDT, April 16, 2008

For more than a decade, poor people couldn’t even get their names on a waiting list for federally subsidized rental housing in Chicago.

On Thursday, a brief and small window will open for those who hope for a shot at one of the rental vouchers commonly known as Section 8. During the next four weeks, low-income families can enter a lottery for one of 40,000 spots on the waiting list.

Some of the “winners” could get a voucher by mid-summer, Chicago Housing Authority officials estimate. Others could wait a decade, depending on how fast the city’s 35,000 vouchers turn over.

For families that are just scraping by, even a faint chance to limit the amount they spend on rent to about 30 percent of their income is worth grabbing.

“It would be nice if we could get that lucky,” said April Anderson, 34, a married mother of three boys who said she often lets a bill or two go each month in order to feed her family.

She works at a bank while her husband picks up odd jobs. With a household income of about $38,000, Anderson worries that an illness or injury could upend their lives, so for years she has been looking for help with rent.

Housing experts say they are seeing more families like Anderson’s, with fewer options for help.

Competition for Section 8 vouchers in Chicago has been made particularly fierce by the Plan for Transformation, the city’s effort to demolish high-rise public housing and replace it with mixed-income communities. Each family evicted from a high-rise has automatically moved to the top of the Section 8 waiting list, with a temporary voucher to hold them over.

Another factor is ethnicity. In 1996, CHA settled a lawsuit with Latino leaders who said Latinos had been shut out of housing assistance. As part of the settlement, 15,000 Latino names were added to the 1997 voucher wait list, said Ofelia Navarro, executive director of the Spanish Coalition for Housing, a Chicago non-profit group.

Also, domestic violence victims would get special consideration.

That could bode well for Lissette Morales, a 29-year-old mother who grew up in the Humboldt Park neighborhood.

Morales and her two girls, ages 2 and 11, are sleeping on their mother’s apartment floor. She said her family is relying on food stamps in the wake of a recent knife attack by an ex-boyfriend that left her weak and traumatized. Once she finishes physical therapy, she said, she plans to look for work.

“It would mean a lot of peace,” she said of securing a housing voucher. “There is nothing like a home.”

The registration process will run for a month, ending May 15, and it will make no difference if an applicant is the first or the last person to fill out the paperwork.

The application, which is free, will be available online beginning Thursday at, at libraries or from the CHA.

A study released earlier this month by Housing Action Illinois found that a minimum-wage earner would have to work 97 hours per week, for 52 weeks per year to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment in the Chicago area.

Doreen Lifschultz, 58, has struggled to pay the $750 rent on a one-bedroom apartment, where she has lived for 10 years. Her mother died last year, leaving Lifschultz alone, with just $623 in Social Security disability payments to cover the rent.

With one leg amputated and another weak from poor circulation, Lifschultz remains wheelchair-bound most days. She said a voucher might allow her to move to a better place.

“Oh God, I would be so happy,” Lifschultz said. “I wouldn’t have to worry. I’d have an apartment I could afford.”

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