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New housing ordinance to stop discrimination now in effect

A Cook County ordinance that was passed to stop discrimination against apartment rental applicants is now in effect.

The ordinance, sponsored by Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, originally passed the full County Board in April, and the rules to implement the measure passed in late November. The ordinance takes effect December 31 in time to provide critical protections before Chicago temperatures start to nosedive.

The ordinance will be enforced by the Cook County Human Rights Commission, an 11-member board mandated to protect county residents from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

As Chicago heads into the depth of winter and thousands of homeless individuals struggle to find shelter, an estimated one million Cook County residents with conviction histories will get historic new protections against housing discrimination, giving them a fair shot at accessing stable housing when the Just Housing Ordinance takes effect next week.

The measure will protect predominantly people of color and individuals with disabilities from being denied housing based solely on their conviction history.

Instead, landlords will be required to conduct individual assessments and determine if an applicant has met all other qualifications before considering criminal backgrounds.

“We know that Black and Brown people are more likely to be arrested and have their records used against them when trying to secure housing, sentencing them to a lifetime of housing insecurity and potential homelessness,” Johnson said.

“Our ordinance begins to reverse that racial and economic discrimination, giving folks a fair chance to access stable housing so they can begin to build better lives for themselves and their families.”

National and local data point to the critical need for the new ordinance.

One in three Americans have an arrest record and nearly 50 percent of children nationwide have a parent with a record, meaning the demand for fair housing policies is a national crisis.

In Cook County alone, more than 13,000 people left the Illinois Department of Corrections in 2017 needing to find homes that allow them to hold jobs and re-establish ties with families, children and their communities. But a national study that included Illinois found that four out of five survey respondents reported being denied or found ineligible for housing due to their own criminal record or that of a loved one.

Studies also show that when individuals re-enter communities with access to stable housing they are seven times less likely to end up back in prison.

“Our ordinance addresses age-old, systemic racial injustices that have plagued our county, city and state for far too long,” Johnson added. “But it’s also a way to ensure safe and stable communities, which is something everyone in Cook County desperately wants.”

A coalition of more than 110 organizations and individuals with lived experience of housing discrimination, organized under the Just Housing Initiative, supported the ordinance and worked for its passage. The initiative’s member organizations include social service providers, community organizers, legal and policy experts and housing and criminal justice advocates.



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