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Chicagoans dependent on rental assistance live far away from most jobs, report says

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Are rental assistance programs helping Chicagoans at all?

A silver train from the CTA crosses the tracks. There are brick buildings in the background of the downtown scene.

Renters who rely on housing authority assistance programs in Chicago live in neighborhoods that are far away from job opportunities, according to a report from Urban Institute. That’s also the case for most renters in federally supported rental housing across the country.

The study specifically looked at where the jobs are in Chicago and where the job seekers are located. This gap, referred to as spatial mismatch, is an issue because when people are too far from the workplace, it raises commuting costs that could outweigh take-home pay. It also makes open positions harder for potential employers to fill.

In Chicago, public housing and Section 8 give low-income Chicagoans reduced monthly rents and housing stability. But, there are lots of well-documented equity issues. In a WBEZ analysis, data showed that most voucher holders live in mostly black neighborhoods on the South and West sides.

While the number of vouchers increased by 24 percent in the past decade in those neighborhoods, the percentage of vouchers in mostly white neighborhoods decreased by 25 in the past decade, according to WBEZ.

Urban Institute’s study also shows that the largest concentration of rental assisted households live on the South and West sides. Those on the West Side are slightly better positioned for jobs in the Loop and the Near West Side, which is where most of the opportunities are in the city, the report says.

However, competition is steep and there are more people looking for jobs than there are open positions. In Chicago, people in assisted households have 9,312 more job seekers than actual jobs.

Looking at the larger region, the job ratios are more encouraging in the northwestern and western suburbs. But the issue there is that few households in those areas live in assisted housing.

The study advises policy makers to consider passing strong laws prohibiting housing discrimination based on income or vouchers. In Chicago, it’s illegal to discriminate against Section 8 residents but there isn’t much enforcement to stop that from happening.

Proximity to jobs doesn’t necessarily equate success—it’s necessary to incorporate training, support, and even transportation that makes available jobs accessible, the study says.