Sep 25, 2023 - News

Chicago's colliding housing crises drive tension between communities

These tents were donated to unhoused people in Humboldt Park. Photo by Jacek Boczarski/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

During his first months in office, Mayor Brandon Johnson has been navigating two housing crises at once: the city's growing number of unhoused people and thousands of newly arrived migrants.

Why it matters: Addressing the issue will require hundreds of millions of dollars in a year when the city is facing a yawning budget gap and growing tensions between Black and Latino communities.

The big picture: Even in cities with less severe budget problems, the tension between finding affordable housing for existing residents and those just arriving is creating questions about priorities, Monica reports with Axios' Caitlin Owens, Stef Kight and Alayna Alvarez.

What they're saying: In recent City Council and neighborhood meetings about allocating funds to establish new migrant shelters, Chicago residents have asked why, in their view, similar efforts have not been made to help the city's homeless.

  • The city's director of homeless prevention, however, assured residents at a meeting this summer that "there are no resources taken from our shelter system and the housing within our shelter system" to house migrants.

Between the lines: Local homeless advocates warn against framing the crises as an us vs. them issue.

  • "Chicago's severely underfunded homelessness system has led to fighting for scarce resources," a spokesperson for Chicago Coalition for the Homeless told Axios in a statement.
  • "We should not be pitting Black and Brown communities against each other. We must and can do better. We must advance solutions that increase and leverage resources to advance housing for all, while working in tandem with communities that have been inequitably resourced for decades."

Driving the news: This month the mayor introduced two controversial plans to tackle each housing issue.

  • Bring Chicago Home would substantially raise taxes on high-end real estate transactions to raise a predicted $100 million-plus a year for homeless services.
  • And last week, Crain's reported the city approved a $30 million contract to build temporary "base camps" for migrants with GardaWorld, a company that has helped transport buses sending migrants to Chicago and faced allegations of abuse and poor living conditions at its facilities.

State of play: While the city's homeless snapshot estimates that there are 6,139 people experiencing homelessness in the city on a given night, advocates place that number at more than 68,000 when you factor in those staying with others temporarily.

  • The city's latest estimate shows that nearly 9,500 migrants are staying in temporary locations in the city.

The latest: Late last week, the White House authorized Temporary Protected Status and work permits for all Venezuelans who entered the country by July 31, 2023, which would allow thousands of Chicago migrants to access work, potentially relieving some pressure on temporary housing supplies.

What we're watching: How Johnson addresses questions about the city's decision to contract with GardaWorld for local base camps and pushback from the local real estate industry over the Bring Chicago Home proposal.


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