Jeanette Taylor was a 19-year-old single mother of three when she applied for an affordable housing voucher in Chicago in 1993. She was living in a one-bedroom apartment with her family, working in retail and as a community organizer. She hoped to find a better place for her kids to grow up.
But it took her 29 years to reach the top of the waitlist. In May 2022, she received a letter from the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) informing her that she was selected for a housing voucher. By then, she had become an alderwoman for Chicago, taking office in 2019. She had also raised five children and one grandchild in the same cramped apartment.
“I have no words for how this system continues to fail our communities and those in need of stable, AFFORDABLE housing,” Taylor wrote on Twitter, sharing a photo of the letter.
Taylor’s story reveals the harsh reality of the housing crisis in Chicago, where millions of families wait for years to get off the waitlists for public housing or housing vouchers. The CHA, which receives funding from the federal government, manages three types of programs: public housing, housing choice vouchers (sometimes called Section 8) and project-based vouchers. These programs subsidize rent for low-income families, who pay about 30% of their income toward rent.
The waitlist for housing choice vouchers is currently closed and was last opened in 2014, when 75,000 families were added. The waitlists for public housing and project-based vouchers are always open, but they are also long and slow-moving.
Taylor said she turned down a housing offer in 2004 because it was too far from her kids’ school and her son was not allowed to be on the lease. She also said she received calls every two to three years from CHA asking if she wanted to remain on the list. She always said yes, knowing that her situation could change at any moment.
“I don’t pay my gas bill between September and April so that I can get my kids the little things that they need,” Taylor told NPR. “Extra T-shirts, gym shoes, boots, coats — kids grow. I’m in a system where I’m made to choose.”
Taylor said she was lucky to have her mother’s support throughout her struggle. Without her mother, she said, she would have been homeless or pushed out of Chicago.
“I was asked to choose between housing and my son, and I must choose my son all the time,” Taylor said.
Taylor is now fighting for more federal funding to address the housing crisis in Chicago. She said she wants to see more affordable units built and more vouchers available for families in need.
“CHA cannot comment on any applicant’s status for privacy reasons, but we fully agree that more resources are needed from the federal government to address the need for affordable housing in Chicago, as there has not been a significant increase in the number of vouchers available in years,” a CHA spokesperson said in a statement.
Taylor said she hopes her story will inspire others to speak up and demand change.
“I’m not ashamed of my story,” Taylor said. “I’m proud of it because it shows resilience.”
– Woman gets approved for affordable housing in Chicago — 29 years after she applied, Business Insider, June 3, 2022
– After 29 years, Chicago woman tops public housing waitlist : NPR, NPR, June 23, 2022
– CHA Statement on Waitlist Times | The Chicago Housing Authority, The Chicago Housing Authority, June 7, 2022
– Chicago Housing Authority’s Housing Wait List Information, City of Chicago, n.d.