Just days after the Trump administration announced it would delay enforcing a federal housing rule requiring communities to address racial segregation, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson appeared in Chicago to host a policy roundtable and discuss economic development.
Carson did not speak to local community groups that wanted him to talk about how not enforcing the rule could affect Chicago, but at least one protester interrupted his speech at a closed meeting.
Chicago is ranked the third most segregated city in the country, behind Milwaukee and New York. The Obama-era racial segregation rule required agencies to evaluate their housing patterns and put in writing detailed plans to enforce equitable access to housing.
Carson’s presence Monday drew the ire of activists who have pushed to integrate some of the city’s most homogenous areas by pressuring the Chicago Housing Authority to find landlords there who will accept subsidies. Organizations have also been pressuring city and elected officials to require developers to include affordable housing in new buildings and to renovate older ones.
Protesters appeared at Carson’s first meeting, which was held at the Ralph H. Metcalfe Federal Building, and then in Bronzeville at a housing office Carson was scheduled to visit.
“We have a segregated city and we have disparities in access to education, in access to opportunity for employment, to health outcomes … and it all comes down to housing,” said Sarah Delgado, community engagement and education manager with Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance. “The basis for the inequities is segregation.”
In Chicago, hundreds of low-income families and individuals sit on waiting lists for years to get access to housing subsidies and public housing.
Although recently the Chicago Housing Authority has increased the number of housing vouchers it distributes, many eligible families still land in high-poverty, segregated communities such as South Shore, North Lawndale and Austin, studies show.
Cheryl Johnson said at the morning rally that living in Altgeld Gardens for 56 years has meant carrying a burden each time she mentions her address. It’s easier to deny residents basic transportation, quality schools and even access to fresh food when the poorest residents are clustered together, she said.
“It’s unjust,” she said. “People judge you based on color, income and where you live. It is so unfair. And to not have federal intervention is unfair.”
Early on Monday, as Carson spoke to housing officials at a closed meeting, he was interrupted by Debra Miller, a 66-year-old Edgewater resident who lives there with the help of a voucher. She stood and asked Carson how he would ensure housing for seniors and the homeless.
Carson didn’t answer her questions and Miller was escorted out by security, she told activists gathered outside the Metcalfe Federal Building.
“He’s not here to help, and he’s not here to provide,” she said. “He never talked about what he knew of housing, he never said the word ‘housing.’ But I did.
“It’s a human right.”