No C.H.A.N.C.E. For Change?
by Beauty Turner, Assistant Editor
Do the residents of public housing have a C.H.A.N.C.E.? C.H.A.N.C.E, the Chicago Housing Authority and Commonwealth Edison program, is supposed to address the issue of high unpaid electric bills. Or was that just something to stop the media from crawling up the backs of CHA and ComEd?
In previous editions of Residents' Journal, I detailed how public housing residents were stuck with extremely high electric bills from ComEd, bills that could jeopardize their eligibility for replacement housing, Section 8 and could even damage their credit, making access to housing in the private market difficult. In the Relocation Contract, the CHA stipulates residents must be lease compliant, including being current with all utility bills. Some residents had unpaid bills as high as $22,000. CHA and ComEd created C.H.A.N.C.E. to solve this problem.
According to CHA spokesperson Derek Hill, the C.H.A.N.C.E. program was supposed to help some residents with their bills. But C.H.A.N.C.E. ended this past March. Hill said those who still have bills should get in touch with their service connectors.
I recently talked with a few residents that signed up for this program and said they did not get any type of help. Jornell Holly, a young single mother who's suffering from severe health problems, has lived at LeClaire Courts for about 14 years.
Holly spoke of signing up for the C.H.A.N.C.E. program after her electric and her gas connections were turned off. "Electric is what I really need due to me using two oxygen machines in order to help me breathe," Holly said. "I applied for the C.H.A.N.C.E. program several months ago. Afterward, someone took my meter on January 16. I thought that someone had stolen the meter, but I later found out that the electric company had taken the meter."
In the year 2000, Holly said, a rash of burglaries struck LeClaire Courts. The thieves broke in while she was asleep and stole her microwave. Later, they took her floor model color T.V. and her computer.
"After that I lived in constant fear. I was scared," Holly explained. "I slept with my lights on, hoping that would deter any type of burglar, [but it] didn't help my light bill much at all!"
After the burglaries, Holly moved to another part of the LeClaire complex, but still didn't feel safe. "My light bills were always high after that. I had all of my bills transferred to my new address," she said. "But before I could move into my new unit I was in a car accident. I couldn't walk for a while, nor could I pay my utility bills."
Today, Holly still doesn't have electric power in her apartment. In order to use her oxygen machines, she spends the night at her mother's place.
Meanwhile, right smack dab in the middle of Bronzeville, Debra Ann-Jackson, a resident who is due to be relocated from the Robert Taylor Homes, explained to me that after applying for the C.H.A.N.C.E. program she was given the run-around by her service connector. She was told to ask for help from LIHEAP, the Low Income Housing Energy Assistance Program or see if money was available from the local Community Economic Development Agency, better known as CEDA.
"It has been since December of last year and I still haven't received any help for my electric bills," Jackson said. Her current balance from ComEd stands at $805.17. The bill is her final notice prior to disconnection.
Other residents in the same building, such as Travel Forney and a young women who wished to remain anonymous, spoke of receiving rejection letters from CEDA.
CHA knows the problem exists. This is a story that I investigated, researched and wrote about for more than a year. Plus, a well known columnist from the Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown, came into the developments with me and wrote about it in his paper as well.
Many residents that are due to be relocated or receive replacement housing who have these outstanding bills are left wondering, "Where do we receive help from?"
In other words, where's the C.H.A.N.C.E. for change?
On June 14, during a press conference marking the fifth anniversary of the Plan for Transformation at the Chicago Historical Society, CHA chief Terry Peterson said that ComEd would continue to assist residents with their high light bills and added that Peoples Gas would also aid residents with their gas bills.
"ComEd will work with us along with Peoples Gas to say, 'If residents are having difficulty, Terry, it's not a six month program. We will continue to stay engaged with you until we can assist residents to work through this,'" Peterson said.
"Our job is to stay the course and to stay with [residents] and continue to assist them through this process."