Groups rally for housing and $15 minimum wage

On Tuesday a coalition of community groups and city officials rallied at Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago to call for the city council to vote for two new ordinances.  The “Keeping the Promise” Ordinance would establish greater oversight of the Chicago Housing Authority when it comes to spending (or not spending) allocated city dollars. The second new ordinance would raise the minimum wage in Chicago to $15/hour.

The issues of affordable housing and minimum wage are as tightly intertwined in Chicago as anywhere. The rally was coordinated by the Chicago Housing Initiative and the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, whose members emceed the event. The crowd was full of seniors impacted by the shortage of affordable housing, families who are not able earn enough on the current minimum wage, and people of all ages who have struggled at the bitter intersections of homelessness, low wages, and disability.

One poignant account of life at such a crossroads came from a woman names Shatara. She could not bring herself to speak to the crowd but allowed her story to be read out loud:

I am a mother, I am a worker, and I’ve been on the waiting list for CHA housing since 2008. I don’t have a doctorate or a master’s degree, but I get up every day and I live a productive life. I work at Walgreen’s. My supervisor has me working 38 hours every week. They keep me working less than 40 hours so they don’t have to provide benefits. I work the night shift and I get off at 12:30 am.  I have a daughter…she is seven years old. When I get off work I pick up my daughter from a family member’s house and by the time we get to the place we stay now, it’s often 3:45 am. My daughter basically sleeps on the road. We don’t have a union at Walgreen’s and the pay is minimum wage. After taxes I take home $500 every two weeks. It’s just not enough to pay for housing of our own.

From November of 2012 to March of 2014 we were homeless. Some nights I slept in my truck while my daughter stayed with a family member. We ended up finding a room to stay at a homeless shelter on the South Side. At least the shelter gave us a place to be a family and to be together even if it wasn’t a place of our own. Currently we stay at a room in a friend’s house after last spring our time ran out at the shelter. Even after waiting for six years there’s still no help from the CHA but I still dream of having a stable place of my own to raise my daughter. She deserves that.”

So far, 22 aldermen have signed on to support the Keeping the Promise ordinance and 22 have signed on to the ordinance to raise the minimum wage to $15. Ten are signatories on both.

Shatara wished the gathered aldermen and officials to know that families like hers need the help and she knows the CHA can offer.  “We need better policies to hold CHA accountable to their mission of providing housing to families like [Shatara’s] who are trying to survive on the minimum wage. We need policies to provide acknowledgement and encouragement, to let families know it’s paying off, that there’s a way out and a way up. Families like Shatara’s need to know that someone sees them,” said Leah Levinger, executive director of the Chicago Housing Initiative.

At this point, it is unclear when the full city council with vote on either ordinance.

Last month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel signed an executive order requiring city contractors to pay employees $13/hour by 2018.  However, this ordinance sponsored by the aldermen would raise the minimum wage to $15 for all Chicago workers. Large corporations would have to raise their wages within a year and small businesses would have several years to scale up their pay. “It allows neighborhoods to reap the benefits of increased wages for their workers, so that four years later they’re able to afford the pay increase,” said Anna Marin, healthcare and economic justice organizer of the Jane Addams Senior Caucus.

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