Parents United for Change, a chapter of Deaconess Foundation’s Just for Kids Anchor Institution, Community Organizing Family Issues (COFI) has taken their message about extractive fines and fees for housing to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Earlier in May, members of the organization testified at U.S. Civil Rights — Fair Housing Briefing.
Since 2017, Parents United for Change, based in East St. Louis, Illinois has called for fines and fees that public housing residents are charged on top of their rent to be reduced or removed. They have also called on East St. Louis Housing Authority to increase the quality of living in public housing by making timely and sustainable repairs.
Parents United for Change is the East St. Louis branch of the statewide parent-leader organization POWER-PAC Illinois. Last year, they released the results of their research in the report “Stopping the Debt Spiral” which chronicled, through parent-to-parent interviews, the types of debt that low-income families of color in Illinois are struggling with and the personal stories of the impact of that debt on children and families. The report highlight how many low-income mothers of color have become indebted by systems that have a disproportionate impact on their families, including rising utility and health care debt, student loans, and wide-spread levying of fees and fines on families who least can afford it, such as tenants in East St. Louis Public Housing.
For Parents United for Change mother-leaders, public housing-imposed fines and fees mean not being able to save for their children to go to college or moving to better living conditions. Lettie Hicks, a member of Parents United, explained, “While I was in the hospital in a coma due to pneumonia and unable to pay my rent for four months, the Public Housing Authority continued to add $50 in late fees each month. I came out of the coma and out of the hospital with ALL of my savings completely depleted!”
The parents are hopeful that this hearing will shed light on issues that East St. Louis Public Housing residents face every day and will lead to change in the Authority’s policies. Parent leader Delbra Myles shared how the fees that the housing authority charges get in the way of residents getting ahead. “On top of my rent I pay $10 extra each month just in order to have a washer and dryer. Some of the units have central air conditioning but mine does not, so I have two air conditioners and have to pay $10 extra for each one of those, too. I pay my rent on-time but cannot even get repairs done in my kitchen. How are we to survive financially?”
Want to know more?
Call Esther Beard at 618-857-2600 or Elena Colas at 312-226-5141.
Visit the Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) website for more information.