West Side Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) recently introduced a series of ordinances designed to address housing insecurity among people living in congregate settings and police accountability. He also introduced a resolution calling for the leaders of some nonprofits working to confront violence on the West Side to appear before a committee to explain their effectiveness.
The housing ordinance that would make it easier for Chicagoans living in homeless shelters, jails and other “congregate settings” to secure affordable housing.
The alderman introduced the proposed legislation, called the COVID-19 Chicago Public Health Housing Ordinance, because he was concerned about the vulnerability of people living in large congregant settings where COVID-19 has a tendency to spread.
“Our goal is to look at whether there is city housing that could be available for residents who are stuck in congregate settings during the pandemic, to help decrease the spread of the virus,” Taliaferro said in an interview last week.
The Chicago Housing Initiative, a coalition of 11 affordable housing advocacy organizations in the city, had been pushing for a similar proposal.
Under Taliaferro’s proposed ordinance, all public housing developments, as well as rental properties that get affordable housing subsidies from the city and/or accepts tenants with Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers would be required to fill vacant units as quickly as possible. They would also be required to prioritize applicants coming from congregate settings.
Don Washington, the executive director of the Chicago Housing Initiative, described Taliaferro’s proposed ordinance as a way of ensuring that city funds are spent on the public good.
“While aldermen don’t directly control the leasing or occupancy practices of the Chicago Housing Authority, we control the purse strings and have an obligation to protect the health of everyone in Chicago and respond to this public health emergency,” Washington said in a statement on the organization’s website.
The ordinance was referred to the Committee on Housing & Real Estate, which is chaired by Ald. Harry Osterman (48th). Taliaferro said that Osterman has agreed to hold discussions in the future with other alderman and the Chicago Housing Initiative to hammer out the details of the ordinance.
More proposed ordinances
Taliaferro is also behind a proposed ordinance that would require the city to create a searchable database of all complaints against police officers that have been investigated. In addition, the West Side alderman introduced a resolution calling for representatives of certain anti-violence nonprofits to appear before a committee hearing.
The proposal for a police complaints database says any information that is not revealed under the city’s collective bargaining agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police doesn’t have to be included in the database.
Talaiferro said that the city will be discussing the exact language to ensure that nothing runs afoul of the union contract and the consent decree.
“The talks are in the initial stages, but we do look forward to providing full transparency to the public,” he said.
Taliaferro, a former police officer, said that the proposal was a direct response to efforts to resolve the lawsuit brought by Charles Green to force the city to release police misconduct records going back to 1967.
Green was sentenced to life in prison in the late 1980s for allegedly helping to orchestrate a quadruple murder. He was released in 2009 after his sentence was reduced, and he sued to have the misconduct files released to help prove his innocence.
The city has argued that the request was too burdensome — a claim with which Taliaferro agrees. But the alderman said he felt that, if the city truly wanted to reform CPD, it had to be transparent and release the more recent files of completed investigations.
“I believe [Green’s] request to be overly burdensome for the city,” Taliaferro said. “However, I do believe that, in the spirit of transparency and in accordance with the [CPD) consent decree, we are required to disclose those investigations of the Chicago Police Department [that were completed].”
Taliaferro said that he introduced the resolution calling for a committee hearing, in order to learn more about organizations that have received city funds to help reduce violence on the West Side, such as UCAN Chicago, the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago and Breakthrough Ministries
Taliaferro said that he’s never had meetings with representatives of those organizations in his six years as an alderman.
“I cannot recall having meetings with those organizations,” he said. “That’s why I believe it’s important [for them] to not only reach out to the [local] alderman, but to inform the community about what they’re doing.”
Although Taliaferro’s resolution states that the city needs a multi-pronged approach to address violence and that community groups should be a part of that approach, the alderman’s document questioned those organizations’ effectiveness.
The resolution cited gun violence statistics from 2016 to 2019 before stating the city, “in the last several years, has provided millions of dollars in violence prevention funding with little or no accountability by this body as to which organizations have been funded, the violence prevention plans of operation by the recipients of funding, and results achieved by each organization receiving funding.”
The resolution calls for Susan Lee, deputy mayor of Public Safety, as well the commissioner of the Department of Public Health, and officials from Metropolitan Family Services and the Institute of Non Violence Chicago to appear before the committee.
“I believe that isn’t important that my colleagues know, and I know, how the money is being spent, and what the plan of action those organizations have in their attempts to reduce violent crime,” he said.