Brandon Johnson administration begins battle to move immigrants to permanent housing

Chicago Mayor
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson delivers his inaugural address after taking the oath of office as Chicago’s 57th mayor Monday, May 15, 2023, in Chicago. Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Brandon Johnson administration begins battle to move immigrants to permanent housing

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Chicago Democratic Mayor Brandon Johnson and his administration are beginning to explore permanent housing options for immigrants who have been bused into the Windy City over the last year. Finding funds is just one of the hurdles.

Since August 2022, over 10,000 asylum-seekers have arrived in Chicago on buses Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) sent to Illinois‘s largest city. It was the third Democratic city to receive immigrants from the southern border state.

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Following the immigration influx, Chicago officials have set up immigrants in police station lobbies and large concrete shelters over recent months. Now, the city is looking for proposals to create a community-based method that needs both obtainable funding and sustainable staff, Johnson’s deputy chief of staff, Cristina Pacione-Zayas, told the Chicago Tribune.

The Chicago City Council approved $51 million in funding to create housing for immigrants and asylum-seekers at the end of May. The state legislature had approved over $42 million in immigrant aid for the entire state, leaving fewer amounts for Chicago and prompting the city to look for additional funds.

Pacione-Zayas said the city is eyeing a $25 million expenditure to provide six months of rental assistance for over 6,500 immigrants, plus $15 million to address overall homelessness. However, Pacione-Zayas noted that the plans for accomplishing these goals are still fluid as the city works to find more immediate solutions to the daily influx of immigrants.

“You can characterize our strategy as ultimate resettlement,” Pacione-Zayas said, adding that it will not be a problem that will be resolved in a period of weeks.

The city also needs to explore the next steps following the six-month rental assistance, with officials engaging in conversations with the state about pairing with national employer organizations.

“Let’s be real. We know that folks are going to need some way to sustain after the rental assistance expires,” Pacione-Zayas said.

Several migrant shelters across Chicago are at full capacity, leaving immigrants to sleep on the floors at police stations and gather resources to obtain permanent housing. Many are faced with poor living conditions due to overcrowding.

Efforts to resettle some immigrants from city-operated shelters to more permanent areas began in April. The Chicago Department of Housing allocated $4 million for a program titled Asylum Seeker Emergency Rental Assistance. So far, 109 households have been resettled into permanent housing, and 285 currently have signed leases or are in the process of moving within the next 15 to 30 days, according to Pacione-Zayas.

Of the $51 million approved by the City Council, $47 million will go toward paying contractual staff that runs the shelters day and night, led by contract vendor Favorite Staffing. However, city officials are discovering quickly that the staffing policies established by former Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration are not sustainable for the rising number of immigrants in Chicago.

“What we learned, and what was very troublesome because it is not sustainable, is that the staffing of our shelters has been done by contractual staff,” she said. “And in many ways, these are the same staff that had staffed up healthcare spaces during COVID. They’re incredibly expensive. They’re national staffing companies. And it is not sustainable to move forward. That is not something we should continue to justify.”

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Ultimately, Pacione-Zayas said the city will seek proposals for community-based providers either to staff shelters or to have volunteer-led shelters “deputized to be a delegate agency.”

The city is hoping for shelter staff that’s “culturally congruent, linguistically responsive and trauma informed,” she added. “And we want to make sure that the investment that we are making go into the pockets of Chicagoans.”

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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