DATABASE SCRUTINIZES AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN ILLINOIS
University of Illinois at Chicago researchers today announced a ground-breaking database project that will make it possible to track assisted-housing units statewide and could encourage housing officials at all government levels to rethink new development plans.
Until now, no complete inventory had been available of all types of assisted housing in Illinois, according to the report issued by UIC's Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement. Neither the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the city of Chicago, nor the state of Illinois had accurate inventories of assisted housing developments they had funded, researchers said. Not only was there no inventory of assisted units, but there also were no demographics on the occupants in the units, or rent levels and subsidy levels given to maintain the units.
The database, developed by UIC and its partner groups in the Illinois Assisted Housing Action and Research Project (IHARP), the Statewide Housing Action Coalition, and Latinos United, is the first of its kind in the country for use in decision-making about the need for and location of assisted-housing units in the state.
This database provides community-based organizations with a critical resource tool for informing new housing policies and directions, said Patricia Wright, Voorhees Center director and one of the database creators. "This is particularly important today as the role of government in providing housing for low-income families comes under closer scrutiny and evaluation. This database will enhance the capacity of community groups to impact housing decisions and policies in all government arenas."
Because Chicago is at the forefront of the affordable-housing debate, Wright said, policy analysis and community input on federal, state and local affordable-housing decisions demand the existence of accurate and accessible baseline data on the existing housing situation.
"While Chicago has had an affordable housing shortage throughout the nineties, this situation is being exacerbated by changes in federal housing policies," she said. "In the past few years, there have been dramatic changes in the federal housing policies and government commitment to provide decent and safe housing for all its residents. These federal changes are impacting the city of Chicago more than any other city in the United States."
The new database, said Cheryl Wilson, Voorhees Center database manager, includes vital information on housing, including identification of units that qualify as housing for low- and moderate- income families; location of housing units by address and census tract; rent levels; sponsoring agencies; developers; management companies; and funding sources. Information on public and assisted housing owned and managed by private and non-profit developers also is included.
"No one else has looked at the total picture of assisted housing in Illinois, yet everyday, policies regarding assisted housing are made without this crucial information," said Judy Meima, executive director of the Statewide Housing Action Coalition. "This information is needed to form policy decisions, allocate resources based on need and determine where new developments should be located."
The Statewide Housing Action Coalition and Latinos United in 1994 approached the Voorhees Center for help because no single public agency had adequate records or inventory of assisted-housing units. Wright and her colleagues began collecting data from government agencies and other sources through the Freedom of Information Act process. Their findings were used to design and build the database to help change traditional assisted-housing tracking pathways.
Scheduled to go online this summer, the database will be maintained by IHARP as an educational tool for community organizing and policymaking for the state. Guiding the group's efforts is their belief that access to information should never be an obstacle in finding affordable housing.
Major funders for the project include The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and The Woods Fund of Chicago.
The Voorhees Neighborhood Center is part of UIC's Center for Urban Economic Development in the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs. It has been part of a university-wide network brought together under the UIC Great Cities Initiative to develop partnerships with the communities adjacent to the university campus.
With 25,000 students, the University of Illinois at Chicago is the largest and most diverse university in the Chicago area, and is one of only 88 national Research I universities. Located just west of Chicago's Loop, UIC is a vital part of the educational, technological, and cultural fabric of the entire metropolitan region.
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