Organizing for Change: Stories of Success

Setting the Housing Agenda

  The decision to organize
  Building the base
  Developing the strategy
  Putting the coalition together
  Action in the neighborhoods
  Approaching the mayor at last
  The long-term impact

In the early 1990s, Chicago's economy was in the early stages of an economic boom, which significantly reshaped the face of the city, and perhaps nowhere more significantly than in the housing market. Many people had more money than ever before to spend on housing. Real estate developers took advantage of a new romanticism about the city, and began to redevelop some inner-city neighborhoods that had long been home to blue-collar and low-income families. Mayor Richard M. Daley saw this as an opportunity for boosting the city's tax base, and told his Department of Housing to assist in the development of middle-income housing in deteriorated neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the funds to do this had to come out of some of the same pots that had been funding low-income housing development. Mayor Daley simply had a different vision for those funds than his predecessors had.

The members of the board of directors of the Chicago Rehab Network had a difficult decision to make. They could not continue to develop low-income housing without a source of subsidy. Shifting into middle-income housing development would violate their mission and abandon the low-income constituency they had set out to serve. They were convinced by this time that Mayor Daley would not redirect funds to low-income housing without a fight. But to antagonize the city, which was their main source of funds, was to bite the hand that had been feeding them, however inadequately. Should they continue to accept crumbs, or should they demand more?

This did not turn out to be a simple decision.

The decision to organize

"The Chicago Rehab Network was born out of struggle," says David Hunt, who was the newly hired executive director in 1989. "Since our founding in 1977, we had collaborated with other community organizations to organize protests and demonstrations to tell Mayor Jane Byrne that federal Community Development Block Grants should be spent in neighborhoods and that low-income housing should be part of it. Along with other people, the members of the Rehab Network board had fought the Community Reinvestment Act battle to make banks spend money in low-income neighborhoods. We had fought to establish city and statewide low-income housing trust funds. We had taken the money and developed thousands of units of low-income housing in neighborhoods across the city.

"But at the same time, we went from being neighborhood groups to being neighborhood development organizations to being community development corporations. We went from being people who hung out building housing with the people, for the people, to becoming corporations that just happened to be nonprofit, building housing in the community.

"We had tremendous technical ability to build housing in rough neighborhoods that absolutely no one else wanted to go to. But we had lost our base with the people.

"As the member organizations began protesting the new city policies, they realized very quickly that their old power base had slipped away. It's difficult when you're the landlord to organize your tenants to fight against somebody. The tenants have not been used to having a voice and then you come along and say 'lemme give you a voice.' Many of them, the first person they'll use their voice against is the person saying 'use your voice.' You're asking people to get involved, and people are going to say, 'Well, what about my doorknob? What about my sink? You want me to rally for more housing, first fix up the housing I have!' Many of the groups had found it difficult and distasteful to organize their own residents, so they got out of that. Those housing groups who continued to do organizing tried to organize their people around non-housing issues--education, crime, police brutality, anything but housing.

"So now we were asking the tenants to follow us, and we looked around, and there was no one there.

"We had to decide what to do."

It was at this point that the Rehab Network brought in the Midwest Academy to help develop a strategy. The Midwest Academy, based in Chicago, is a national training institute for leaders and staff of community organizations, environmental and health groups, women's organizations, labor unions and other groups using the methods of direct action organizing. Kim Bobo was assigned to work with the Rehab Network.

"The Rehab Network came to us and said, we're ready to do an organizing campaign, will you help us figure out how," Bobo remembers.

To begin the decision-making process, Bobo and Hunt interviewed a representative of each Rehab Network member organization, to see where they stood.

"Two themes came out incredibly clearly. One, every organization needed more money for housing development. Two, the money had to be targeted to low-income families and not just moderate-income housing. Every group told us the same thing.

"Nobody felt the Rehab Network could win more money. But they really wanted targeting. It was making them all nuts that they were having to build middle-income housing, because of the ways the deals were being structured by the city."

These interviews built up to the annual retreat, where decisions would have to be made.

Judy Beason, who was an officer of the CRN board as well as Associate Director at PRIDE, an Austin-based nonprofit housing developer and one of the long-time CRN members, has vivid memories of that retreat.

"We were trying to decide what everybody could agree on. We discussed the Housing Development Training Institute, to train housing developers and to answer the accusation that the city had for us, which was, not-for-profits don't know how to do housing. We had been doing it successfully for 30 years, but that was the city's attitude. And so we all agreed on that.

"But what else could we do in the current situation? We stayed up all night talking. There were people that wanted to do single-family housing, some wanted to stick to multi-family, some wanted to do higher end, and some lower end. Groups had different needs depending on what community they were in.

"The conversation got real heated. There were a lot of tears. It was a heartfelt, emotional conversation. There was this faction that wanted to move and then there were the more complacent folks that said, 'don't rock the boat.' Someone, and I don't remember who it was, said, "Can we agree that we want 10,000 units of housing?"

Hunt also recalls it as a very tense meeting. "The main arguments on the 'let's-not-do-it' side were, we can't afford to do it, we're too weak, the city will cut off our funding. We don't trust each other, we can't do it alone, we've never done anything like this, Mayor Daley is too strong. All those things.

"On the other side, people said, Mayor Daley is strong, but we can build power. And we have no choice, because if the mayor is successful, we'll go out of business. Our soul, our basic survival is being threatened."

Hunt had seen this fight coming since before he had agreed to become director. He had set about attracting additional members for the Network--advocacy groups such as ACORN, disability rights groups, tenants rights organizations.

"I started inviting them into the group, making them members so that we would have some warriors amongst us when the time came for war," Hunt says. "It wasn't anything behind closed doors, it was open, 'let's add some more advocacy groups here.' Everybody saw a fight was coming. So for two days at the retreat, people screamed and yelled and said 'no we can't,' 'yes we should,' and at the end, what we came out with was, we just had to do this.

"In the end, you have to go into the fire so that you can come out stronger.

"But there were a number of groups who walked away. A couple said, 'We don't want to be part of the Network any more, you all are crazy.' There were also some who said, 'Hey, this is a pipe dream, you can't win this. We want to be part of the Network, but we're not going to be part of this fight.'"

Beason recalls that it was a painful period. "The first year we had folks that pulled away, and people getting upset with each other. I think it was not because they didn't have the passion, but because we couldn't always agree on how it needed to be done. And there was a little distrust--some organizations were closer to the mayor and things like that."

"Some people were afraid of looking bad," Bobo recalls. "That we would fail. I've never been afraid to look silly for a good cause. I think some Rehab Network members decided, 'Well, we'll let them go ahead, as long as they don't embarrass us too much.' Others, like the Coalition for the Homeless, were really ready for a fight. David was a driving force behind it for sure."

Building the base

Hunt had known when he became director that there was some serious organizational rebuilding to do at the Rehab Network.

"I had attended Network board meetings for quite awhile before I was hired as director. My boss at the Howard Area Community Center hated the meetings and sent me instead. It's a typical sign that you've got a coalition nobody is really invested in when most of the people would send their secretaries or somebody lowly like me. In part it was because the coalition was just arguing all the time.

"It was helpful that we now had a campaign to focus and structure our work. Because when you have a dragon to fight against, it is also a way of finding yourself."

The first thing the CRN members had to confront was building up their own strength as organizations that were ready to engage in direct action organizing.

"We had agreed that one of the things we wanted to do was not just win more money but to reconnect ourselves with organizing and with the people in the community. Kim and I started to put together a Midwest Academy strategy chart--a game plan for how we would win the campaign and make the Rehab Network stronger in the process."

A lot of organizations exhaust themselves in the course of a long, tough organizing campaign. Through careful planning, other organizations come out stronger than ever because of the struggle and action that the members have been through together, and the new members who have been brought in.

"We started with Midwest Academy training sessions about organizing and the tactics we needed for the campaign," says Hunt. "We asked all of our executive directors to come, all of their organizers to come, all of the board presidents to come. We opened it up to lots of people."

As the rumbling of protest started to gather momentum, the housing development groups had to deal with negative reactions from the city. Judy Beason remembers groups worrying about losing their city funding.

"At PRIDE, I think about 40 to 50 percent of our funding was from the city, through Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) from the Chicago Department of Housing. To develop low-income housing you had to have government money. But I think the North Side was threatened much more. Property values were already higher there than on the West Side; it just cost more to do development. So they were more at risk. As we prepared for the fight, we were all aware of what could happen."

The Rehab Network itself had a substantial amount of CDBG funding.

"At that point, the Rehab Network board decided not to take any more CDBG money," says Beason. "You can't continue to bite the hand that feeds you. So we decided not to be fed. Luckily, we were able to go after some foundation money. And we got a one-time grant from the United Way. We couldn't have done this without the foundations. But we had decided what we had to do."

To this day, CRN takes no city money for its core operations. The current director and board know that it is hard to hold people accountable if you are taking their money.

Developing the strategy

Despite her many years of organizing experience and her status as a trainer and consultant for the Midwest Academy, Bobo had never before worked on a campaign to pass a bill in the Chicago City Council. Neither had Hunt. Now they had to craft the broad goal--10,000 units of affordable housing--into a specific piece of legislation.

"I had worked in Washington, D.C., when I was with Bread for the World, trying to pass federal legislation," Bobo recalls. "The congressional staff always help you write bills. You work with them on the concept, then they write it and get it technically approved. Frankly, I wasted about a month or two trying to get somebody in the Chicago City Council to help us write the legislation. They kept saying, 'We don't do that. We don't know how to do that. That's what the mayor does.'

"So in the end, I literally sat at the computer and David and I made up the legislation. At the beginning of the campaign, everybody kept saying, 'Oh, this bill is ridiculous, you can't have a bill that's only a page-and-a-half long, you know, it's got to be much more complicated.' Later on in the campaign, people said, 'Oh, that's brilliant, having such a simple bill.' The truth was, that's all David and I could come up with."

Of course, there were dozens of critical decisions that had to be made by the Rehab Network board before that page and a half could be written.

"A lot of people asked why we were demanding that the city spend a billion dollars. Where did that number come from?" recalls Bobo. "Frankly, it was an easy number to remember. The city had been spending $500 million on housing, and we wanted them to double it, and to target it to low-income people.

"One strategic decision was that we were going to exclude public housing. You can't really talk about low-income housing without talking about public housing. But the group felt that the general view of public housing was so bad, that if we got into that, it would just sort of drag us down. And it wasn't the base of the Rehab Network, we didn't have those relationships."

A second critical decision was where the money should come from. Everyone knew that a property tax increase was not an option. Fortunately, a timely foundation grant allowed them to hire Patricia Wright, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor, to conduct research and develop a recommendation.

"We basically said to Pat Wright, we want you to show how the city of Chicago can do this without raising property taxes," says Bobo. "She called every other city that did major housing development and found out how they did it, and then put together this whole package of how it could be done."

Wright's report showed a huge gap between the need and what the city was doing to create affordable housing. She compared Chicago to about two dozen other cities, all of which were making more creative use of available funding sources and producing more affordable housing.

Just as important as the research on housing programs and revenue sources was the political analysis. Hard-bitten organizers and low-income residents of Chicago alike knew that no one was going to give them money for housing just because a university professor said it was needed and that it could be done. If it was that easy, it would have happened decades earlier. The Rehab Network needed to analyze what power it had to move the mayor and city council into action.

"I did a fair amount of work trying to figure out the city council," says Bobo. "I talked to the people that had worked on the blue bag recycling campaign, and a number of community organizations that had worked on other city council issues."

Bobo and Hunt talked to Rehab Network members as well as some friendly aldermen to figure out the potential votes in the council. They determined that there were 19 aldermen who were clearly on the side of affordable housing. Then there were 11 or 12 who were viewed as completely hopeless, aldermen who were never going to vote to spend money on affordable housing.

"And then there were the remaining bulk in the middle, the swing votes," says Bobo. "But everybody recognized that the real decision-maker was the mayor. The city council would do what Mayor Daley told them to. That had been everyone's experience.

"But we did not have the power to go up against the mayor directly."

Although Daley had only been mayor for a few years at this point, he had already consolidated considerable power, partly due to his popularity as inheritor of the Daley mantle, and partly as a result of the schisms within and between the African-American and Hispanic communities. At this point, Daley controlled a solid majority of the votes in the city council, and set the agenda for the city relatively unimpeded.

"We made a strategic decision early on, that we were going to run the Affordable Housing Campaign like a legislative drive, and act like the council had legislative power. We could build the power to make some aldermen nervous. Our thinking was that when we got close to 30 potential votes, we would have the attention of the mayor. And so we needed to concentrate our energy and time on those swing votes."

"We also had to figure out what journey our legislation would take through the city council," remembers Hunt.

The council's Housing Committee would be the first stop, under the leadership of Alderman Ambrosio Medrano, a foe of the legislation.

"Who could be our champions in the council, the alderpeople who would actually introduce the legislation? Who would be the people leading the fight against us?" says Hunt.

"We knew our champions had to be in wards where we had enough major supporters to hold the aldermen accountable if they wavered. In the end we chose Toni Preckwinkle and Arenda Troutman. Now this caused a little bit of problem, because some of our old-time allies in the council felt betrayed that we had not asked them. The reason we didn't was that if they were our champions, the bill would be dead on arrival. We needed people who were at least perceived as not being anti-mayor."

Putting the coalition together

Everyone knew that it would take a coalition of almost unprecedented size to move enough aldermen to budge the mayor, and reset his spending priorities.

One of the partners that the Rehab Network reached out to was Carlos DeJesus and Latinos United.

Latinos United had grown out of the Mayor's Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs, set up in 1984 by Mayor Harold Washington to report on the status of the Latino community in areas such as health care, employment, education and housing. When the commission folded after Washington's death, the members of its housing committee felt that their work was far from completed, and reconstituted themselves as Latinos United.

"In 1984, the commission had documented that although Latinos were close to 15 percent of the eligible population for subsidized housing in Chicago, we were less than 2 percent of the actual participants," says DeJesus. "Housing committee members spent five years negotiating with the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) before getting a written, signed agreement that by 1995 Latinos would be equitably represented. But it was never implemented. Eventually, we sued the CHA.

"There were many historical reasons why Latinos had been shut out of subsidized housing. Most public housing was created in segregated, impoverished black neighborhoods. A couple of developments were built in white neighborhoods because at the time they were built, there were more whites eligible than blacks. Over the years as the black population increased in Chicago, public housing became perceived as a program for blacks. As the Latino numbers increased, there was never any marketing to the Latino community. Latinos applied for CHA housing, but almost never made it to the top of the years-long waiting list. Families would move with no forwarding address, or fail to return CHA waiting list notices sent in English only, and be removed from the list.

"Consequently, low-income Latino families were paying an ungodly amount for housing.

"When David Hunt from the Rehab Network and John Donahue from the Coalition for the Homeless came to ask us about joining the Affordable Housing Campaign, we were glad to be a part of it.

"There was a lot of creativity in the campaign. It wasn't simply a bunch of people demanding stuff. The group identified housing resources that the city didn't know it had. It really took the wind out of the sails of the city.

"There was some apprehension on our board. Not so much whether it would succeed, but what assurances would we have that this would benefit the Latino community. The board represented almost all of the nonprofit developers of housing who were working in Latino neighborhoods--Bickerdike and LUCHA from West Town and Humboldt Park, Voice of the People from Uptown, the 18th Street Development Corporation and The Resurrection Project from Pilsen, and others. The board was also apprehensive about how much time it would take because we were so focused on CHA. Having argued that through, we gave our full support under one condition--that Latinos United play a prominent role in the steering committee and the negotiating. It was important for us to have a strong presence to argue for Latinos to get resources."

Before the end of the campaign, more than 250 community organizations, churches, synagogues, community centers, issue organizations and other groups had endorsed the Affordable Housing bill. Most contacted local aldermen asking for support. Some, such as Latinos United, ended up playing a very active role in the leadership team. Some turned out large numbers of community residents at crucial moments. Others merely lent their name and good will to the effort. All were important to the eventual victory. The unprecedented size of the list of supporters created a sense of the public will, a sense of momentum, and a need for the city to respond.

This huge coalition was part of the vision Kim Bobo brought.

"One important decision I made was to assume that everybody could work together. We put past history behind us, and just asked organizations to get involved. We ended up having groups that didn't generally talk to one another all supporting the campaign. It was the wildest set of organizations. There were lots of other issues they didn't agree about, but they all knew there was a need for affordable housing. "

Action in the neighborhoods

"We didn't officially announce any big campaign for about a year," says Hunt. "We were stealth-like. We had decided we were not going to call the mayor bad names or anything. We would lay low, and not call the dragon out before we were ready. We would start in the neighborhoods.

"When we looked at the city council housing committee, we saw that a lot of the Rehab Network organizations were in the more progressive districts. We already had the support of those alderpeople. So we had to look at the places where there wasn't that kind of support. The Northwest Side, parts of the Latino community, other parts of the then-gentrifying African-American community. That's where we had to put a lot of our energy."

Fortunately about this point, the Midwest Academy was launching a summer internship program. The Affordable Housing Campaign could serve as a learning laboratory for college students, and they could serve as the foot soldiers in the communities that had been targeted, but where there were no Rehab Network members.

Hunt remembers that there were some questions about this decision. When the Rehab Network got new resources, the member organizations naturally expected to be the beneficiaries. And summer interns represented a big resource to perennially understaffed nonprofits.

"There was tension until it was explained to people why we were doing this. Your alderperson is either, a) not on the housing committee, or b) if they are on the housing committee, they are going to vote the right way already. And anyway, you're already there organizing."

The interns were sent to organizations that in some cases did not even have housing on their list of issues.

"The first summer," says Bobo, "there were a small number of interns, like seven or eight, so we assigned two wards to each of them. The next year we had enough so that each swing ward was assigned an intern. They worked within a community organization, and their job was to build the base of endorsing organizations. They were supposed to ask for three things: will you arrange for a meeting with your alderman, will you generate a certain number of postcards, will you add your organization's name to the endorsers."

Matt McDermott, now executive director of the Southwest Organizing Project, spent the summer of 1993 as an intern at Pilsen Neighbors. It was his first taste of community organizing.

"When I got there, I found just two people who were interested in housing. It was a challenge. I was able to build and leave in place a strong housing committee by the end of the summer. I really got excited about organizing. By the time the negotiations took place in the fall, Pilsen Neighbors was so active in the campaign that they were represented on the negotiating committee."

"We basically spent almost a year building, doing outreach, generating postcards to aldermen," recalls Bobo. "Eventually we organized visits to 40 aldermen, where delegations of residents from local organizations talked about the need for affordable housing. By the second summer, we had 150 groups who endorsed the Campaign for Affordable Housing. The list went on for pages.

"I felt that I had played an important role in building the base and figuring out the strategy, but I was doing this all as a part-time consultant from the Midwest Academy. The Campaign needed more help, someone who could be there full-time. Josh Hoyt, a long-time Chicago organizer, was brought in, and he was really instrumental in the last few months. He helped figure out one tactic after another to make the city crazy."

Approaching the mayor at last

"It wasn't until the last six months, once we had really built up significant support, that we started doing citywide stuff," recalls Hunt. "That's when the mayor started becoming more of the target, not just the alderpeople. We knew if the mayor wasn't supporting it, then it wasn't getting passed in Chicago. That was the rule.

"By midsummer, 28 aldermen publicly said they'd support the campaign. Now whether they all would have voted for it, you know, some of them probably would have gone to the bathroom during the vote. But we were starting to reach our critical number."

"Suddenly in early August," says Bobo, "the city came out with a fancy report saying why our bill wasn't necessary. We thought it was a great thing. We've got the mayor's attention, they're taking us seriously. It was time to shift the focus to the mayor.

"The second week of August, before all the interns left, we organized a rally down at City Hall. I took 500 song sheets and I ran out, so our estimate is that there were around 600 people there. The Rehab Network had never turned out anything like that as far as people could remember. Everyone was just completely blown away."

Hunt remembers the rally as a high point of the campaign.

"I was walking up the steps to the fifth floor at City Hall, because the mayor's people had blocked the elevators to keep us away from his office. I heard crowd noises growing and growing and growing. It was almost like I was sleepwalking. I was thinking about what I needed to say at the rally, there are Latinos here, African Americans here, there's rich people here, poor people here, there's homeless people here, if you want to see Chicago, here we are, the breadth and depth of our coalition. And I turned the corner and there was this sea of people standing there, and everybody's chanting. That was one of the best days. All the coalition members we had worked with for so long in the neighborhoods, everybody was there."

Through August and September, Hoyt organized about one direct action a week. Another one that everybody remembers was the day the coalition distributed 15,000 flyers at El stops requesting people to call City Hall asking for a commitment to affordable housing.

Judy Beason was at a Red Line stop in the Loop with several other people.

"The flyers talked about homelessness and affordability and how anyone could be at risk if they lost their job. We said we were trying to make sure that housing was available to everyone, and asked people to call the mayor's office. Some of them ignored us, but lots of people said they had read about the problem or knew about it. And they took the flyers.

"Later in the morning, I was back at the Rehab Network office and somebody called in. 'We can't even get the switchboard at City Hall any more, they closed it down… they put on a recording.' We were thrilled!"

Every time the mayor had a ribbon cutting, members of the Rehab Network would be there saying, "What are you doing about affordable housing?" Press conferences were organized for various groups of community leaders to speak out--religious leaders, black elected leaders, Latino leaders and others.

"For a wild eight-week period, we just went nuts," laughs Beason. "We mobilized everybody in the base that we had built up."

In addition, coalition leaders met with editorial boards and wrote op-ed pieces. They paid the Chicago Video Project to produce a 10-minute video explaining the issue, and set up screenings for aldermen and media representatives.

"There were a lot of people who were skeptics when we started," says Bobo. "Now people felt we might get something. There was a sense of energy.

"By the end of September, we got a call from the city saying, 'Okay, we'd like to sit down and meet.' So we put together the meeting team, about eight or 10 people, the most active leaders from the coalition."


There ensued a series of meetings through October and November as Rehab Network members and city representatives tried to come to an agreement.

"I remember clearly at the initial meeting Rosanna Marquez was the point person for the city," says DeJesus. "Also in the meetings was Alderman Ambrosio Medrano, the chair of the housing committee. And Victor Reyes, who was the head of intergovernmental affairs for the administration. All Hispanic. And, of course, the Housing Commissioner, Marina Carott. David Hunt led our team. Jean Butzen from Lakefront SRO was there, and Judy Beason from PRIDE, Les Brown from the Coalition for the Homeless. Josh Hoyt, the organizer. And several others.

"There was some posturing in the initial meetings, jockeying for position. But the subsequent meetings were a lot more amicable.

Continues DeJesus, "At first, the city told us there were limits to what they could do, that they needed to be strategic about how they used resources. They felt that the resources of the Department of Housing were not for the very poor, because public housing and Section 8 were for the poor. They wanted to use city money, in their words, to 'stimulate the market' so that housing could be created. What that meant to us was that they were using it to gentrify, to build expensive housing in low-income neighborhoods.

"Josh was very dynamic in the meetings, very in-your-face. Really, at that point I think the city had already decided that we were a thorn, and they had to do something.

"The city also argued that there couldn't be any language that was specific to one group. They argued that by income targeting, Latinos would get a proportionate share. That certainly didn't happen in public housing and that was all income targeting. But probably legally they were correct, that there couldn't be language specific to Latinos or any other group. But eventually there was an informal commitment. DOH agreed to quarterly meetings in the community to target Latino developers. The focus was on getting funds to the developers so that they could create the housing that was needed in the community.

"After a number of back and forth meetings, the city's negotiating team began saying, 'These things sound great, but will they work?' Eventually David said, 'Well, then let's meet with Paul Vallas.' He was the mayor's budget director at the time. I believe there were two meetings with Paul. He looked at our proposal and said, 'Yeah, all of this is doable. All I need is the go-ahead.' As I recall, that was the final obstacle."

Part of the success was due to how solid the proposal was, recalls Hunt. "The resources that we were identifying were either not being used by the city, or were underutilized by the city. So it wasn't really taking money out of the mayor's existing budget. The main difference was that Daley wanted funds for families making $25,000 or more. In our legislation, 75 percent of the resources had to go for families making below $25,000. We were using dollars from federal and state government, and bonding authority that the city really hadn't been using anyway. Our demand was a billion dollars for five years, and we got the city to agree to spend $750 million."


Just as important as the big increase in dollars and the new targeting was a requirement that the city report to the community on its use of housing dollars. This was not in the original page and a half that Bobo and Hunt wrote, but was added during the negotiations. The city promised quarterly reports about dollars spent and affordable housing units created.

"Once we knew they were going to agree to the dollars, then the question became, how are we going to make sure we get what we asked for," says DeJesus. "As housing advocates, we do a lot of research at Latinos United, and our philosophy is that we want to use numbers from the government. Because then they can't argue. If the city Department of Housing issued quarterly reports to the city council, and made them public, then we had the numbers to hold them accountable."

The numbers turned out to be very important. In the first couple of quarterly reports, the city included as housing units several categories that did not satisfy coalition members.

"They wanted to count shelter beds as units. Is that a housing unit? A cot in the basement of a church? Or adding handrails in the shower for a senior citizen? It's good, but it's not a new unit of housing," says DeJesus. "The quarterly reports turned out to be crucial to the long-term success of our campaign."

The long-term impact

Eight years after the victory, the Rehab Network has built a strong partnership with the Chicago Department of Housing.

Under the first five-year agreement, more than $800 million was spent, exceeding the agreed-upon goal of three quarters of a billion dollars. That money created or preserved nearly 48,000 units of affordable housing.

A second five-year agreement was entered into at the end of the first period. The process was entirely different. Julia Stasch came in as commissioner of DOH in August 1997. The Rehab Network immediately invited her to its quarterly meeting and asked if she intended to renew the five-year agreement.

By then, the Rehab Network also had a new director. Kevin Jackson, an experienced community organizer, had taken over from David Hunt in early 1996.

He remembers the commissioner's response as very thoughtful. "She was favorable from the beginning. 'I like this analysis of the agreement,' she said. 'I can use this as a management tool.' We began an ongoing dialogue with her that led into the renewal process.

"The principles of the first agreement were the bedrock. The focus on where the dollars are to be targeted, the accountability through reporting. We almost doubled the dollars, the second five-year commitment was just shy of $1.5 million."

Stasch facilitated a broad discussion about the renewal of the five-year plan. For the first time, the Department of Housing produced a report detailing priorities, programs and resources. An advisory group was put together that included representatives of many of the Rehab Network members, as well as elected officials, housing experts and private-sector developers. The conversation was driven by the tangible information and experience of the first five years.

"There was a whole new dynamic of interaction," says Jackson. "We have a partnership. There's some tension, but there is also some respect.

"When I first came to the Rehab Network, everyone wanted to talk to me about the Affordable Housing Campaign, tell me their perspective. It was a couple years in the past at that point, but everybody felt it was important I have their view.

"The campaign put the Rehab Network on the political map in a way that it had never been before. It was a force to be reckoned with by city officials and the mayor. We were recognized by the aldermen and others as being an independent voice that had to be heard."

Not everyone in the low-income housing community was happy with the results. There continues to be a severe shortage of affordable housing in the city. The 2000 census showed that although Chicago was the only one of the top ten cities in the country that gained population in the past decade, it actually lost rental housing.

"There are certainly critics who say that we continue to miss the targets," says Jackson. "There are people who want to take a more adversarial approach. But we also have to acknowledge the things that have been successful. Our relationship with the city Department of Housing has been completely transformed since 1993, and is much more productive."

Over the past five years, the Rehab Network has continued to grow, and currently has more than 40 institutional members. In addition to advocacy, research and policy analysis, it conducts extensive training for affordable housing developers, and administers a $1 million revolving single-family loan fund. It has broadened its policy work to include national and state efforts, winning approval in 2001 of an Illinois Affordable Housing Donations Tax Credit that will provide $26 million for the production of affordable housing.

The tension the Rehab Network struggled with in deciding to organize is a tension that continues today. Members seek to find a balance between building better cooperative relationships and pressing the city for more resources.

"The Rehab Network has an incredibly diverse membership spread across the city, and a rich network of relationships we can call on," says Jackson. "That is our real source of strength. Housing affordability continues to be a crisis in Chicago, but our members are in the neighborhoods working on it, creating not only bricks-and-mortar solutions, but also the policies and programs that contribute to the solution." 

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