An important part of implementing GO TO 2040's recommendation for increasing the range of housing options, particularly options that promote housing affordability in areas near transit, is coordinating resources that guide development decisions. Such resources can be used to implement local plans, including those produced through the Local Technical Assistance program. To address the region's housing challenges, BRicK Partners, CMAP, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA), and ten housing authorities in the region are collaborating through the Regional Housing Initiative (RHI) to support affordable and mixed-income housing developments in opportunity areas.
Since 2002, the public housing authorities participating in RHI have pooled a portion of their available rental assistance vouchers to provide long-term support for the rehabilitation or construction of multifamily, affordable rental homes in opportunity communities across the region. That means RHI can adapt to the changing housing market and economic climate more flexibly than current federal funding flows permit. For example, despite the growing need for affordable housing in the suburbs, the Chicago and Cook County Housing Authorities receive higher levels of voucher subsidies than the suburban housing authorities. By allowing nine housing authorities to pool their resources, RHI created a mechanism through which a suburban housing development can receive subsidies even if the local housing authority lacks resources.
This innovative structure has led to the development of more than 500 apartments in 33 developments in 22 different communities around the region. The Chicago and Cook County Housing Authorities see clear benefits in contributing vouchers to other communities in the region because waiting list families from all nine geographies are offered expanded housing opportunities. This shared list, combined with the voucher portability pilot, is helping more low-income families find homes in attractive communities across the region. It also removes some of the administrative inefficiencies and barriers experienced by participating housing authorities.
While RHI addresses development challenges, an MPC survey of regional public housing authorities showed that most rent voucher holders are not moving into opportunity communities, even as public housing authorities spend $1 million each year to facilitate such moves. In an era of declining federal resources for housing and poverty interventions, in 2011 the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded RHI $1 million to pilot new strategies to help families. Since that time, the Chicago region has been using a regional waiting list for families who want to move into RHI developments and providing education on mobility and portability to support families leaving high poverty, distressed communities for opportunity communities across the region.