Problem Solver: Disabled seniors fight moving orders

Donna Green and George Maxwell want to stay in their Section 8 home, but there are forces working to move them

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Donna Green and George Maxwell have lived in their University Village apartment for nearly eight years.

The two-bedroom unit is ideal in many ways, not the least of which is its first-floor location. Green, 65, walks with the aid of a walker. Maxwell, 66, uses a wheelchair.

The couple has paid their share of the rent religiously for years, currently about $400 a month. The rest of the tab is paid with federal funds through the Housing Choice Voucher program, administered by the Chicago Housing Authority.

Maxwell said the couple never had a problem with the program — until last summer.

During its annual inspection of the unit, the CHA found two seemingly minor issues: a window lock that wasn't working and a loose electrical outlet.

The management team at the complex, an affiliate of Related management called Roosevelt Square, sent someone to make the repairs, and the couple thought everything was fine. An inspector returned to the apartment Aug. 2 and again failed the unit, citing the loose outlet.

Maxwell was beside himself. From what he could tell, the outlet was fine. He asked the CHA to inspect it again but was told an inspector would not come out again unless he paid a $75 reinspection fee.

Things deteriorated from there.

The building's management refused to pay for another inspection because it felt the problem had been fixed, Maxwell said. The couple offered to pay the CHA the $75 directly, but the housing authority would accept payment only from the landlord, he said.

Without the reinspection, the unit fell out of compliance, based on federal guidelines mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In the fall, the CHA withdrew its voucher for the unit and informed the couple they had to move out by Jan. 29.

Although Green and Maxwell still qualified for the Housing Choice Voucher program and could find another eligible Section 8 apartment, the couple had no desire to move. Not only do they like the apartment and its management company, but neither was particularly enthused at the prospect of moving in the dead of winter.

Unable to make any headway, the couple sought help from the Legal Aid Foundation.

Staff attorney Shareese Pryor said she tried to help but had no luck. In early January, she emailed What's Your Problem?

"In the present posture, everyone loses," she said. "CHA has stopped paying its portion of rent to Roosevelt Square so Roosevelt Square loses money. CHA must expend staff time to issue paperwork to the tenants so they can move, and inspect a new unit when they have found one. Mr. Maxwell and Ms. Green, who are seniors, will need to find another apartment and move in the dead of winter."

As Pryor put it, "This is ridiculous."

Maxwell said he doesn't understand why no one would help.

"I'm trying to figure out how I can give (CHA) the $75 so they can look at the wiring so we can get this over with so I don't have to go through changes," he said. "I don't want to move."

The Problem Solver called Related management and the Chicago Housing Authority.

Tricia Van Horn, a spokeswoman for Related, said that after the unit failed inspection the second time in August, both the property manager and Maxwell disputed the result.

"Due to this dispute process, the $75 third inspection was refused," she said. "Management and the CHA worked closely together during the dispute."

CHA spokeswoman Wendy Parks said her agency received no communication from Green or Maxwell for three months regarding the failed inspections or a request for another inspection. When Maxwell called the housing authority Nov. 15, the voucher for the apartment had already been canceled, Parks said.

After the Problem Solver's inquiry, a CHA inspector visited the couple's apartment again Friday morning.

Parks said the unit passed, and the contract will be reinstated, meaning the couple will not have to move.

"This is what I wanted to do in the first place," Maxwell said. "They finally decided to do something after three or four months."

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