Can Mayor Emanuel develop more than 700 affordable housing units in one year?


Helping the Homeless. Image by Flickr user Ed Yourdon. Taken 10/1/08








Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced last week, at the opening of Hope Manor Apartments II in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, that by 2015 he will end homelessness among Chicago Veterans of the U.S. Military.

According to the 2014 Point-in-Time Count and Survey Report conducted by the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, which counts the number of homeless people in Chicago (both sheltered and unsheltered) one night each year, 16 percent of the approximately 6,294 homeless individuals in Chicago are Veterans. Of the 16 percent of homeless who were not living in shelters the night of the survey -and evening during which frostbite and hypothermia warnings were effect -27 percent had served in the military. This means on one of the coldest nights during one of the coldest winters of Chicago’s history, hundreds of men and women who had been employed by the Federal government to serve our country were without a roof or a bed.

The enormity of these numbers is compounded by the rapidly growing number of homelessness among Veterans with families. The press release issued by Emanuel to celebrate the opening of Hope Manor II states that, for each of the past five years, the rate of homelessness among Veterans with families has grown by more than five percent. Women are at especial risk: the VOA IL estimates that up to 175 women, many with children, are homeless in Chicago each night.

Homeless Veterans have specialized needs; many struggle with mental illness, trauma, instability brought on by exposure to war in addition to joblessness and poverty, and the stress of having no home.

Hope Manor II is the second complex in Chicago developed by Volunteers of America (VOA), Illinois using low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC) to provide affordable veteran-targeted housing. The 73-unit complex is designed specifically for Veterans with families. Four-bedroom townhomes and studio, one, two and three-bedroom apartments arranged around an open park and children’s play area give families space and stability as they regain control of their lives.

Residents have on-site access social services, including VOA of IL’s True North Project and True North University both of which provide support such as counseling, job training and legal advice.

Hope Manor II is a laudable project, and I hope to see many more developments that mimic its commitment to providing affordable supportive housing to Veterans and their families. This group represents a large and important part of our country and deserves stable homes. I am concerned, however, about Emanuel’s claim that he will eliminate homelessness among Veterans by the end of 2015. His deadline is only a year away, and yet I can find no evidence of an action plan other than his Chicago Plan 2.0, issued in 2012 to extend Mayor Richard Daley’s 10 year War on Homelessness. Plan 2.0 contains only one action item to end homelessness among Veterans, a long-term/ ongoing action item in the priority section for Cross-Systems Integration. It reads, “increase collaboration with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center through integrated homeless outreach and improved access to veteran-specific homeless programs.”

This broad plan gives no details for its execution, it is only an outline of goals. Specifics are absent.

Plan 2.0 has succeeded to some extent, in that it has housed or will house, according to the Hope Manor II press release, more than 400 homeless individuals since its inception. Although approximately half of those housed are Veterans, in excess of 700 homeless Veterans continue to remain on the streets and in shelters. And this official number is only an estimate, based upon one night’s data and individual survey reporting. It does not, as Mark Brown points out, take into account the numbers of individuals who have no home of their own and sleep on the couches of friends and relatives. Without a public plan, how does Emanuel hope to house them all in one year?

The $800,000 he has dedicated to supporting subsidized Veteran housing in the 2015 budget is barely a drop in the bucket, even with the additional 4.2 million pledged by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Chicago Housing Authority. Hope Manor II alone was $23.5 million.

Emanuel claims that his portion of the $5 million per year needed to eradicate Veteran homelessness by the end of 2015 will build 36 supportive housing units, social-services to match individuals with housing, and rapid rehousing support (subsidized housing vouchers, for example) for another 70 Veterans. To me, this seems like a lot to enact with less than $1 million at his disposal.

I will be overjoyed if Emanuel reaches his goal, but I worry that his timeline is too rapid and his budget too small. With his reelection season approaching in 2015, he should choose a project on which he can deliver. Instead, as like all politicians concerned more with polls than with creating improvements, he focuses his energy on wonderful but unrealistic promises.

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