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KOCO fighting hard for Senior Bill of Rights

Jitu Brown - KOCO

Photo caption: JITU BROWN, CHAIRMAN of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) announced efforts in Chicago and 38 other cities, to push for passage of a Senior Bill of Rights. The bill is part of KOCO’s Quality of Life agenda. (Photo by Chinta Strausberg)

The 58-year-old Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) has revved up its fight for equity for Black and brown communities, introducing a Quality of Life agenda that includes a Senior Bill of Rights in Chicago’s City Council, and in 38 other cities where KOCO affiliates are located.

Jitu Brown, national executive director for the Journey 4 Justice Alliance and chair of KOCO, said the move to get this agenda in place began recently in Chicago. He made the announcement on April 22, during the organization’s first post-pandemic convention, held at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., College Preparatory High School, 4445 S. Drexel Blvd.

Brown explained that the organization’s Quality of Life Agenda entails strong proposed bills on senior rights and Affordable Housing 101 that includes the ‘Lift the Ban’ statewide rent control campaign.

The agenda addresses, as well, health care, food production and delivery systems, youth investment, economic development, immigrant rights and an educational bill calling for a school system with equity, serving all students.

The theme of this year’s KOCO convention was, “Our Power-Organized People.”

At the conclusion of KOCO’s convention, Brown told the Chicago Crusader that Alderman Jeanette B. Taylor (20th), Alderwoman-elect Angela Clay (46th) and Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) are sponsoring KOCO’s Quality of Life agenda and plan to  introduce a bill in the City Council.

“We are doing this in over 30 cities across the country, and we are going to pass a resolution on the national level as well.” Brown said to strengthen KOCO’s agenda, Congressman Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) has agreed to introduce and pass the resolution in the fall.

Brown explained that as Saturday’s convention was underway, similar KOCO town hall meetings were simultaneously being held in Houston, Texas, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Camden, New Jersey, Chicago and other cities. “We are building a movement. We are trying to build local power to win quality of life change in our communities.”

“All of the institutions in most of white America take for granted (their rights), but we have to fight, struggle and claw for ours,” Brown said.

That is why Brown is pushing for passage of this Quality of Life resolution. “It’s important because the way you build communities is by building the quality of life institutions that train people how they should be taught. Institutions are a reflection of a value, belief system.

“If your institutions are developed with respect for peoples’ full humanity, then they operate and are structured a certain way,” he explained. “If institutions are structured with white supremacy, then you get liquor stores instead of grocery stores.

“You get policing schools instead of art, music and culturally relevant curriculum. You get slum landlords instead of decent affordable housing and a pathway to homeownership. It is not an issue that we are at war with, rather it’s a belief system that we are at war with,” Brown stated.

A big part of KOCO’s Quality of Life Agenda is its Senior Bill of Rights, which calls for all seniors to be “valued, respected, treated fairly and with dignity.” It demands the right of all seniors living in public housing to be able to receive visits from relatives and friends “under any circumstance” by eliminating the bar (limit) rule. It also includes having a monthly review of random seniors to ensure that needs are being met.

The Senior Bill of Rights also calls for seniors to have the right to review their property management’s performance. “Those with at least one year of tenancy in any senior public housing should have the right to evaluate and choose the management company that manages the building they live in and the resident service coordinator for that building.

“Tenants have a right to be a part of the selection committee that will evaluate management’s performance every year and every four years for contract renewal or non-renewal,” the proposed bill states.

The bill also demands that seniors should have access to management within a period of 12 hours or, in an emergency, immediate management access. If a work order for repairs is required, this should be honored with a turnaround of 4/72 hours.

The bill calls for tenants to be privy to information about the ownership of the property including the name, address, phone number where they can be reached in case of an emergency or their representatives’ data without fear of intimidation or retaliation.

A mandatory security escort is to be provided to and from parking lots when requested. Transportation issues also should be provided for seniors to go shopping a minimum of once a month.

Each senior building is to have resources available for tenants with substance/alcohol abuse and mental health issues so they can request and seek care with privacy and confidentiality.

KOCO’s senior rights are clear that they all have a right to a safe and clean environment to live in. “When the quality and integrity of the environment come into question, seniors are privy to request testing of the quality of air, water, infrastructure, elevators…by licensed professionals.

“Concerning turnaround times, the results of this testing should be reported back to the individual and the building within one month. At a baseline, the city or a contracted consultant must inspect elevators within senior housing at a minimum of semi-annually.”

In the KOCO workshop, some members living in senior buildings complained that their senior housing managers have demanded to get a copy of their debit cards, which KOCO officials said is against the law.

The Senior Bill of Rights opposes that action saying, “seniors have a right to privacy regarding their finances and that Protected Personal Information (PPI), Personal Health Information (PHI) and personal property are just that, private. The bill calls for a 30-day removal of medical records from the seniors’ files.

When significant repairs are needed that leave the living facilities uninhabitable, management is responsible for all relocation services including the costs and assistance with packing. In case of eviction, tenants have the right to legal counsel at the owner’s expense.

Once approved, a copy of this ordinance is to be given to all senior public housing tenants, and they also all have a right to “truly affordable housing.”

During the convention, Brown introduced Leopa Johnson, who hired Reverend Jesse Jackson as the organization’s first executive director, and Reverend Al Sampson, who was ordained by Dr. King. Joined by Deotis Taylor, Johnson presented a copy of the Original African Heritage Bible to Representative Jonathan Jackson, and earlier copies to Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson and Reverend Jackson.

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