Class Says Chicago Must Adjust Utility Allowance

     CHICAGO (CN) – Residents of Chicago public housing say the city has evicted tenants for not paying utilities but has not increased their utility allowance since 2007 despite hikes in electric and gas rates.
     Mary Haywood and three other residents of public housing filed a class action lawsuit against the Chicago Housing Authority in Federal Court on Tuesday.
     “The CHA has failed, for nearly a decade, to meet its legal obligation to adjust and update its resident utility allowances. Even worse, CHA has evicted some public housing residents for not paying their utilities while at the same time providing residents insufficient money to pay those bills in the first place,” the lawsuit states.
     Haywood is 80 years old and disabled. She has lived in public housing for the past 16 years, according to the complaint. She claims she pays $224 in rent, after applying her $24 monthly utility allowance and a deduction for her services as a member of the “tenant patrol.”
     “This rent payment, combined with CHA’s utility allowance, should have totaled not more than 30 percent of her adjusted income, the maximum amount that CHA can charge for rent, including utilities,” the complaint states. “However, because CHA has failed to adequately review and adjust its utility allowance, Ms. Haywood has been paying and continues to pay CHA more than 30 percent of her adjusted monthly income for rent.”
     Martha Lewis, Annie Stubenfield, and A.D. Lindsey also claim their rent payments exceed 30 percent of their income. All three are over the age of 60.
     Lewis pays $56 in monthly rent for a two-bedroom unit, Stubenfield pays $86 for a four-bedroom unit, and Lindsey pays $381 for a one-bedroom unit. They each receive a utility allowance based on the size of their unit — $51, $168, and $24, respectively, according to the lawsuit.
     But CHA has not increased its utility allowances for public housing residents since 2007, despite more than 10 percent increases in electric and natural gas rates, the residents claim.
     “CHA’s actions threaten plaintiffs and putative class members with imminent and irreparable injury, including being forced to go without other necessities in order to pay utilities, or worse, potential eviction or resulting homelessness for failure to maintain utilities,” the complaint states.
     The proposed class includes former public housing residents who were harmed by CHA and current residents who face a threat of harm.
     The residents seek an injunction stopping CHA from evicting any tenant for failure to pay utilities, an order directing the agency to make adjustments to its utility allowances for all public housing tenants retroactive to 2007, and compensatory damages. They are represented by Christopher Wilmes of Hughes, Socol, Piers, Resnick & Dym in Chicago.

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