CHA opens all three housing waiting lists for first time ever, expects over 250,000 applicants

The Chicago Housing Authority opened its three housing lists yesterday and is expecting a lot of people to sign up:

Agency officials expect more than 250,000 families to apply for spots on three waiting lists — one for public housing, one for housing vouchers and one for apartments in privately owned subsidized housing,

“We don’t have a set number of slots available. … We can’t predict how long people will be on the wait list,” said Katie Ludwig, a deputy chief housing officer at the CHA. “We are getting to the end of our (current) wait lists, and we thought it was a great opportunity for people who are in need of housing. We thought we’d open all three lists at the same time. It’s something we’ve never done.”…

Having their name on a list at the agency does not guarantee housing. It is simply one step closer to participating in the agency’s programs. Historically, the CHA has had wait lists that surpass 15,000 families for each of its programs, records show.

Residents can wait years to be called in for housing.

Still, the current move comes as the agency has been under fire for not doing enough to house the city’s poorest and most vulnerable populations. In July, a report from an independent think tank revealed that the agency had banked more than $355 million rather than use the money for housing. Local officials and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have pressed the agency to serve more people.

Two things have not changed:

1. The CHA continues in not providing enough housing.

2. There is a lot of demand in Chicago for affordable housing.

Both of these issues date back decades. The CHA has been either slow or incompetent, or perhaps both. While new housing units may have been built for wealthier residents in trendy neighborhoods or along the lakefront, the city still does not have enough affordable or public housing. You might think these problems might be solved at some point given their long history and the basic need for decent housing but there has not even been much conversation about addressing these concerns.

“Why Low-Income Housing Applicants Have to Waste Hours of Time Waiting in Gigantic Lines”

The 312 looks at why applicants for social services have to wait in long lines:

Can you imagine people waiting in a line that stretched around the block for any other government service? The DMV? The City Clerk? The Secretary of State?

But inconvenience is pretty standard when it comes to services for the poor, says Dan Lesser, of the Sargent Shriver Center on Poverty Law.

“There’s a world of different between how the average person is treated at the DMV and how someone whose applying for assistance is treated at the local public aid office,” said Lesser.

“We heard that a lot when the economy went bad and a lot of people applied for food stamps for the first time,” he said. “They were definitely not used to get the kind of treatment that they got when they went to those local offices.”

It makes you wonder: Is there simply a belief that poor people have nowhere better to be? Why do the providers of essential services treat them as if their time is worthless?

Most of the problem lies with the abysmal funding levels for human services, says Lesser. But the majority of people who are on some kind of public assistance are working, he says, and the layers of red tape hurts them financially.

It sounds like adding insult to injury. This reminds me of a faculty member I know who has students go through the process of applying for public aid without giving them any information. The students tend to report that the process is a lot harder than you might think.

But, there could be another issue at work as well. Take the example in this blog post about a line for applying for low-income housing. There is an issue long before getting into line: the Chicago area, not just the city, is lacking in affordable housing. I’ve seen numbers suggesting the region is at least 50,000 affordable units short. Hence, the wait lists for public or affordable housing are really long. Interest in joining a waiting list or getting a shot a new opportunity is high.

Waiting in line across cultures

Waiting in line works in different ways across the world:

Different societies, of course, exhibit different queuing cultures, according to sociologist David R. Gibson of Princeton University. Here are some of Gibson’s observations, anecdotal and otherwise:

* “The Brits are famous for their lines Southern Europeans much less so.”

* “A friend from Israel tells me that Israelis fall into the queuing-challenged category.”

* “Sometimes there are other procedures for determining who gets served first. I once had a student from Pakistan who told me that in mixed-sex lines, women get served first … and old men second, out of respect for their seniority.”

* “In high school lunch lines social status, especially tied to athleticism, sometimes trumps order of arrival.”

This may seem like a more inconsequential social norm but people spend a lot of time waiting in line. I remember being struck by the waiting in line procedure for the BART in San Francisco. Unlike Chicago where the trains stopped at different points and people massed around the doors to board with little regard for who was first, the trains there stopped at marked spots on the platform and people lined up respectfully on these spots and waited their turn. Or think about merging in traffic when lanes are reduced; this is a form of waiting in line where drivers can act very aggressively. Or think of some of the current debates about health care; do Americans want to have “wait lists” for medical procedures as some claim will happen with nationalized medical care? Or some of the somewhat controlled chaos that ensues when Americans line up at midnight for Black Friday sales. During my experience last year lining up several hours before midnight at Best Buy, we spent more than three hours in line (over one outside the several, around two inside the store waiting to check out and/or order on-sale items) just for some consumer savings.

If I were asked to describe American patterns for standing in line, I’m not sure I could really describe it. Generally first come, first served. Most of the time people really do not like the idea of others cutting or budging in line. We generally don’t like waiting in line because we think our time is really valuable and that organizations should work more efficiently to meet our individual needs.