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After Scrutiny, Chicago Housing Authority Cuts Value Of ‘Super Vouchers’

By Michelle Manchir, Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Chicago Housing Authority voucher recipients will no longer receive enough assistance to place them in the city’s most luxurious high-rise buildings under a new policy, the agency announced Sunday.

The policy targets “super vouchers” that allow low-income recipients to receive up to 300 percent of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Market Rent, which for the Chicago area is $826 for a one-bedroom apartment. The new limit will be 150 percent, according to the release.

The policy change comes barely a month after the agency came under scrutiny for its use of the vouchers to put families in apartments where rent can start at $2,300 a month. In July, Republican U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock of Peoria called for an investigation to ensure the program is not wasting tax dollars.

Also last month, the Tribune reported that the CHA recently started expanding its voucher program again after five years, during which it steadily socked away hundreds of millions of dollars instead of spending the money to house the poor. In November, the CHA had a waiting list of more than 40,000 families for both vouchers and public housing, records show.

In a statement Sunday, the CHA said its new policy aims to “expand housing options for low-income families in a fiscally responsible way.”

The CHA said its “exception payments,” or the extra-funded vouchers, affect less than 2 percent of its overall voucher portfolio. Those vouchers aim to “provide CHA families the ability to choose where they want to live and enjoy the great diversity that Chicago communities have to offer.”

In a statement about the new policy Sunday, CHA Chief Executive Michael Merchant said “we believe adjusting the policy strikes a critical balance between providing housing options for voucher participants and fiscal responsibility.”

The new policy will affect about 260 families, the CHA said, and all of them will have a least one year to move.

AFP Photo/Scott Olson

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Gay Couples In Chicago Won’t Have To Wait To Marry, Judge Rules

By Michelle Manchir, Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Gay couples in Cook County won’t have to wait until June to marry, under a ruling Friday by a federal judge in Chicago that scraps the delayed effective date of Illinois’ same sex marriage law.

“There is no reason to delay further when no opposition has been presented to this Court and committed gay and lesbian couples have already suffered from the denial of their fundamental right to marry,” U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman stated.

Her ruling noted that Cook County Clerk David Orr filed a brief in support of the lawsuit, which argued that couples should not have to wait until the Illinois law went into effect on June 1.

Orr released a statement after the ruling saying he will begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses “immediately.”

“I’m thrilled same-sex couples who want to get married won’t have to wait any longer” Orr said. “We are very excited to celebrate this historic milestone with every loving couple from today onward.”

Orr said he will keep the downtown Bureau of Vital Records, in the lower level of the Daley Center, open an extra two hours Friday night — until 7 p.m. — to accommodate any couples who want to get a license after work.

Only the downtown office will issue same-sex marriage licenses on Friday. All offices will begin issuing licenses on Monday, he said.

Marriage licenses are valid for 60 days. “Don’t rush to get your license if you have a summer wedding planned because you don’t want the license to expire before your big day,” Orr said.

The $60 license fee will be waived for any couple who already has an Illinois civil union license. Couples who wish to convert their prior civil union date to a marriage will have to wait until June 1 because it was not addressed in Coleman’s order, Orr said.

Two women had challenged the effective date of the law in federal court last year.

The women, both in their 60s, were partners for more than five years and entered into a civil union in 2011. One of them had been battling breast cancer for 17 years and had been advised by her doctors that she had little time left to live.

They sued in U.S. District Court, requesting a marriage license immediately. U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin granted the request, citing the special circumstances. The couple wed privately in November.

Judge Coleman later ordered Orr’s office to immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to other couples facing similar circumstances. “This Court can conceive of no reason why the public interest would be disserved by allowing a few couples facing terminal illness to wed a few months earlier than the timeline would currently allow,” she ruled in December.

Her ruling Friday applies to all same sex couples.

Supporters of same sex marriage praised the decision.

“We’re thrilled that Judge Coleman recognized the serious harm to the many Illinois families from continuing to deny them the freedom to marry,” said John Knight, LGBT and AIDS Project Director for the ACLU of Illinois. “The U.S. Constitution guarantees these families the personal and emotional benefits as well as the critical legal protections of marriage now, and we are thankful that the court extended this dignity to couples immediately.”

“The wait is over! We are thrilled that the court recognized the unfairness of forcing same-sex couples to wait for months to marry,” said Christopher Clark, Counsel for Lambda Legal. “Justice has prevailed and full equality is no longer delayed for Illinoisans who wish to marry in Cook County before June 1.”

Catholic Conference of Illinois officials, who opposed the law, declined to comment on the ruling.

Photo: Jose Antonio Navas via Flickr.com