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Chicago teachers fight for affordable housing in contract negotiations

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Public school teachers will strike on the issue of housing

Two women stand together in red shirts with their backs facing. Text on their shirt reads: Chicago Teachers Union.
Members of the Chicago Teachers Union gathered at a rally ahead of an upcoming potential educators strike on September 24, 2019 in Chicago.
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Chicago teachers put affordable housing on the bargaining table and Mayor Lori Lightfoot isn’t willing to discuss it. It’s one of the main issues in union negotiations that have led Chicago Public School teachers and support staff to strike on Thursday, October 17.

The Chicago Teachers Union, which represents more than 25,000 teachers and staff, still hasn’t resolved issues involving pay and staffing in addition to more contentious topics like housing and ensuring there’s a librarian in every school.

The union representing Chicago Park District workers were expected to strike along with CTU complicating contingency plans for more than 300,000 students, but earlier on Wednesday they reached an agreement with the city.

The next contract with the city will have to be about more than just pay and benefits—the union wants housing assistance for teachers and students. Lightfoot says affordable housing should be addressed broadly and it isn’t an “appropriate place for the city to legislate its affordable housing policy.”

But leaders and members at CTU disagree. Some of what the union is proposing includes more staff to support families in danger of losing housing and a program that financially helps school employees purchase homes.

About 16,000 Chicago Public School students are homeless, CTU President Jesse Sharkey said during a WTTW interview. Housing is relevant to the negotiation as CPS employees are required to live within city limits, but many can’t afford it, he said. Plus, other city employees like police and firefighters get housing assistance while teachers do not.

After a wave of teachers’ strikes, the cost of living and housing issues aren’t new to contract negotiations. In Oakland, California teachers cited skyrocketing rents as one of their main concerns.

A look into the Chicago rental market shows that the amount of affordable housing in the city is shrinking, even though low-income households represent the largest share of renters.

In Chicago, the union was also critical of massive development projects increasing rents and developers that avoid building required affordable housing by opting to pay a fee. The increased cost of living has led to a decline in student enrollment, especially among black families, CTU said.

Comparing the city’s massive breaks for developers against the stingy deals for Chicago students and teachers continues to be a main argument for CTU.

“The money is always there for places like Lincoln Yards and The 78. The money is always there to build bigger and better cop academies. But the money is never there for the very children that we say need it the very most,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates told WTTW.

Both these megadevelopments, Lincoln Yards and The 78, received in total $2 billion in tax-increment financing (TIF) earlier this year. CTU argues that developers don’t need that kind of assistance with infrastructure.

“Those TIF dollars belong in our schools, which have been robbed of those public funds for decades,” the union wrote in a July statement after learning that the city had raised an extra $181 million from TIF districts.