Mission & Staff
The Housing Opportunity Project focuses on systemic litigation and advocacy to combat housing discrimination and barriers to opportunity. We investigate complaints of discrimination throughout the Chicago metropolitan area, educate people about fair housing rights and obligations and provide representation to individuals and groups to challenge discriminatory policies and practices based on race, national origin and other protected classes. We also engage in advocacy supporting equitable development and investment in historically disinvested communities of color supporting the stabilization and improvement of housing.
Key Project Staff
Aneel Chablani, Chief Counsel
Barbara Barreno-Paschall, Senior Staff Attorney
Josefina Navar, Senior Fair Housing Testing & Investigations Coordinator
Josh Koenig, Program Associate
Hannah Stephan, AmeriCorps VISTA
Upcoming Clinics & Events
The Housing Opportunity Project offers in-person intakes at our neighborhood clinics. All currently scheduled intake clinics are listed below alongside our other upcoming events.
If you are planning to attend an upcoming clinic, please RSVP to our Intake Specialist via phone at 312-888-4192 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you do not RSVP you may still attend the clinic, but we cannot guarantee that you will be able to meet with a staff member or attorney.
Just Housing Initiative
Since 2017, our organization has been a member of the Just Housing Coalition with the goal of introducing and passing a Just Housing amendment to the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance. This amendment passed the Cook County Board of Commissioners on April 25, 2019, and its implementation will help over one million people in Cook County find a home. Read more on our blog post.
Cook County residents who have been incarcerated are over 10 times more likely to be homeless, and policies that ban residents with a criminal record impact people of color and people with disabilities the most. Under the Just Housing amendment, housing providers will be prohibited from denying housing to someone with a criminal record without considering other factors such as rehabilitation and time since the offense, and they would be required to wait until after review of a person’s application to check their criminal history. Find more info at justhousinginitiative.org
Federal Litigation Challenging 25-Year Criminal Background Bans
On October 24, 2018, we joined attorneys at Winston & Strawn LLP in filing a federal lawsuit that challenges a large property manager’s policy of enforcing a blanket ban on individuals with criminal convictions that go as far back as 25 years. The policy does not allow for any individual consideration of an applicant’s circumstances, including the length of time since the conviction, years since release from prison, rehabilitation efforts, or whether the past conviction actually presents any legitimate reason to think that the applicant currently poses any safety risk. We allege that the use of such a policy has a disparate impact on Black applicants who represent a disproportionate share of individuals incarcerated and re-entering society, and denies individuals opportunities for housing.
Source of Income Discrimination
Recently, we have attacked source of income discrimination on many levels. Housing Choice Vouchers, formerly called Section 8, are federal subsidies that allow low-income families to rent housing in the private market. Chicago outlawed source of income discrimination more than 25 years ago, and Cook County followed suit in 2013. However, our testing in Chicago reveals that housing providers discriminate against tenants based on voucher status 32% of the time, and Cook County testing showed similar widespread discrimination. The Housing Opportunity Project is working to address the problem systemically, representing tenants with claims, and educating landlords and tenants. Housing Choice Voucher discrimination contributes to ongoing segregation in Cook County by keeping qualified renters, most of whom are Black, out of areas of opportunity with access to better schools, jobs, and other amenities.
Resources on Fair Housing
Our testimony addresses the barriers to accessing rental housing that individuals with criminal records and other people of color face as a result of longstanding racial and economic segregation in Chicago; how the use of federal disparate impact litigation can challenge policies that entrench segregation; and the need for legislation that expands protections under the fair housing laws for individuals with criminal records.
Out, But Not In: Examining Barriers to Re-Entry [March 2019]
This news report outlines the many barriers that await the 11,000 Illinois residents who re-enter society from incarceration every year. In an interview by Kaisha Young of Medill Reports Chicago, Senior Staff Attorney Barbara Barreno-Paschall talks about the specific barriers that exist in the search for housing, including long criminal history look-back periods, and what the Housing Opportunity Project is doing to help.
Chapter 8 Fiftieth Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act: How the Past Informs the Future [January 2019]
by Barbara R. Barreno-Paschall and Jessica Schneider from Civil Rights Litigation and Attorney Fees Annual Handbook
This article reviews the current state of fair housing law and litigation in the 50th anniversary of the federal Fair Housing Act. The article analyzes how fair housing advocates are dealing with long standing problems in integrating major urban areas and shows how local anti-discrimination laws and agencies may be a more productive place to achieve positive change.
This report presents the results of a one-year fair housing testing and training project conducted by Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights for the Chicago Commission on Human Relations. Over a one-year period from April 2017 through April 2018, we conducted 70 tests for discrimination on the basis of source of income and/or race in six neighborhoods in Chicago. We also provided 8 training events on the Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance and other fair housing laws. Read coverage on this report in WBEZ
Our Chicago: The Fight and Future of Fair Housing [Community Summit | April 2018]
On Saturday, April 28, 2018, advocates, experts, and community members convened at Roosevelt University for a free community summit to commemorate fifty years of the federal Fair Housing Act, learn our history, share tools, and organize together for equity and justice.
Fair Housing Laws for Chicago Housing Providers [WEBINAR | April 2018]
On December 14, 2017, the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council and Logan Square Neighborhood Association filed a lawsuit in circuit court alleging that the office of Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios conducts assessments that systematically and illegally shift residential property tax burdens from Whites to Hispanics and African-Americans, and from the rich to the poor. Download the complaint, learn about the case, and submit your own comments below.