Block the Vote for CHA Residents?

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(Photo: Out of sight, out of the franchise. Credit: Zoe Strauss.)

I love The Chicago Reporter. No other investigative journal in Chitown makes its entire raison d’etre the scrutinization of social- and racial-justice issues.

The latest Reporter really gets into a doozy of one, too. This month’s web edition makes an unsettling case that the Chicago Housing Authority’s controversial Plan for Transformation may have managed to disenfranchise thousands of this city’s public-housing residents, with no one really doing anything to fix the problem–or taking responsibility, for that matter.

(Take a look at the paper’s data on the disenfranchised public-housing vote here, here, and here.)

Under CHA Transformation, the city’s long-notorious high-rise housing projects have almost entirely come down, in favor of more humane low-rise, mixed-income housing that has proved successful elsewhere. Too bad the CHA forgot to remind the tens of thousands of residents who were forced to relocate under the plan, temporarily or permanently, that they needed to update their voter registrations if they wanted to remain on Chicago’s voter rolls.

Out of the 22,000 registered voters living in CHA housing in 2000, only 8,140 of them (37%) remained on the rolls in 2007, after the demolition of the high rises. That’s compared with 57% of rank-and-file Chicagoans who remained registered voters during that time.

Now I don’t know about you, but it seems a no-brainer to me that when you move you have to update your voter card. But what about when you and your family are forced to move against your will (as was the case for many CHA families caught up in Transformation), along with the rest of your neighborhood? Shouldn’t the citywide authority causing a mass dislocation like that have some idea about the political implications?

The response from former Chicago Housing Authority CEO Sharon Gist Gilliam? As quoted by the Reporter, “[We] can’t do anything about it.”

No? Really? Not in one of the many press releases and interviews CHA officials have done to promote Transformation? Not through one of the city’s partnering Service Connector agencies? Not a simple reminder, once, in all the years of Transformation?

Not one iota of realization that you are about to disenfranchise a significant chunk of Chicago’s black vote? Not one memory of how hard blacks in this country fought for the right to vote? Not one shred of evidence of the remorse the agency should feel about its stunning inability to identify, in advance, one of the clearest potential social and political impacts of forcibly taking away the addresses of thousand of poor black Chicagoans?

The Reporter won’t say it but I will. For shame. To the planners who conceived CHA Transformation, the members of this city’s administration who approved it, and the CHA leaders who have ignored the plan’s implications for so long–you should be ashamed of yourselves.

You have damaged the black vote in Chicago. No matter the turnout level in CHA neighborhoods, at least people were on the rolls. Now many Chicagoans may go to the polls in February to elect local officials and begin to elect this country’s next President, and be turned away.

The immense suckiness of that happening–and happening almost by official fiat–boggles my mind.

You can read more reaction to CHA voter disenfranchisement over at Illinoize, Gapers Block, and YoChicago, and hear a whole discussion about the issue from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio’s 8:48 morning show.

Unfortunately, you can’t read about it in the Tribune or the Sun-Times. I guess those papers get a little touchy when they get scooped on major citywide issues. Even with all the ink they’ve spilled on new CHA head honcho Louis Jordan, this issue hasn’t come up.

I would think a headline reading, “CHA Takes Away Residents’ Right to Vote” would sell newspapers in this city. Maybe those two papers know something that I don’t.

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