Victory! a Just Housing Amendment for Cook County

Protecting Over 1 Million People from Housing Discrimination!

After immeasurable hours spent planning, preparing, and organizing around the Just Housing Amendment, our efforts culminated in one day, April 24, 2019, when a crucial vote was to be made regarding its passing into law.

The Just Housing Amendment requires landlords and real estate agencies to determine whether a person has met financial and other qualifications before considering that person's criminal history; and prohibits blanket bans on criminal records, as well as housing discrimination on the basis of arrest records, juvenile records and records that have been expunged and sealed.

The day began with an 8:30 a.m. press conference, with powerful testimony from directly impacted individuals, landlords, and the sponsor of our bill, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson. One of the highlights of the conference was having CRS member Anne Holcomb speak powerfully in support of the Amendment. Another highlight was the presence of other commissioners who we lobbied to support our amendment. Several commissioners came out for the press conference to show their support. It was a good indication of things to come.

The press conference was followed by what we thought would be an 11:15 a.m. hearing with the Cook County Human Relations Committee. It turned out to be a long wait; initially there was standing room only in the crowded chambers. We waited until nearly 3:00 p.m. before we could finally have our voices heard.

Although people were tired, a bit dismayed because of the wait, and reduced in number because some had to leave, the remaining members eventually made their way to the microphones to offer testimonies. Men and women shared stories and experiences from their lives about how important and challenging it was to gain access to housing when you are discriminated against because of a past history.

As our amendment was brought up for debate, the moments became tense. Yet, it felt like a power higher than us had a hand in the hearing, because we were able to end the hearing with powerful testimonies from those most directly impacted — families and children. Specifically, two 9-year-old twin girls shared the struggles they had seen their father endure while looking for housing for all of them. Their father was an outstanding member of the community, a resource to his family and friends, and the girls conveyed the message about how a past record should not be a block to him and his family finding a place to live. All of the testimonies were moving and held ground against the individuals who testified in opposition, and in the end the committee passed the amendment.

The next day, on April 25, the Cook County Board of Commissioners voted on the floor in support of the Just Housing Amendment to protect housing applicants with records from discrimination! The vote count was 15-2. We thank all of the Cook County Commissioners who stood with us to affirm that people with records, like everyone else, deserve a place to call home.

The victory comes on the heels of more than three years of work by the Just Housing Initiative, a coalition of 12 steering committee organizations, including CRS, and over 100 supporting organizations from across Cook County. But the work is not done. Opposition is continuing its fight to repeal this Amendment and to have a say in its implementation. We continue the fight in the name of justice.

We know that this Amendment is critical for the families we serve, but not everyone understands the importance of this issue. We are facing opposition from the realtor lobby who is seeking to weaken or repeal the Amendment. Because of this, we need YOU to speak out in support. Take this opportunity to email your commissioner to either thank them for their vote or tell them that you were sorry to hear that they did not vote for the amendment. We need to remind them why this ordinance is important for improving the lives of the families living in Cook County.

Our coalition will work with Commissioner Johnson on implementing the amendment in the next phase of our work. We ask for your ongoing support and to contact Sarah Yousuf, syousuf@communityrenewalsociety.org or Rishona Taylor, rtaylor@communityrenewalsociety.org if you would like to get involved.