Advancing Latino Voices Across Chicago

by Sylvia Puente, Executive Director, Latino Policy Forum
Latino Policy Forum

The Latino Policy Forum, the only organization in Chicago that brings together Latinos at all levels of public decision-making, is striving to build power, influence, and leadership in the community through transformative public housing policy initiatives.

En Español

“Housing is a huge factor in determining one’s opportunities in life."

Our Housing Coordinator, Gypsy Gavia, shared this thought. It’s true, and it’s why the work of the Latino Policy Forum is needed. We shine a light on the disparities that still exist when it comes to equitable access to resources. We began as an advocacy and fair housing organization that served the Latino community. Since then, we’ve built our board and staff leadership from people with roots in every part of the Latino community and from every walk of life. These community members, professionals, and academics aim to improve the quality of life, eliminate barriers, and create opportunities in Chicago neighborhoods and in the surrounding counties.

We uphold the belief that advancing Latinos advances a shared future. The Forum is the only organization in Chicago that brings together and facilitates the involvement of Latinos at all levels of public decision-making. We conduct analysis to inform, influence, and lead with the goals of improving education outcomes, advocating for affordable housing, promoting just immigration policies, and engaging diverse communities

Through the 80s and early 90s, our efforts were primarily focused on housing issues: public resource equity, fair housing in the private market, increased access, and general housing policy advocacy. But as the general Latino population began to grow, so did the need for the Forum to expand its work. In 2007, we launched an in-depth community engagement process where we interviewed over 600 Latino community leaders. One thing was clear: as the Latino population grows, their voices are becoming more critical than ever.

Latino Policy Forum’s purpose is to build the power, influence, and leadership of the Latino community through collective action to transform public policies that ensure the well-being of our community and society as a whole.

“In a city where a large part of the population speaks a language other than English it was surprising to see that there was no official plan city-wide or with the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) that clarified what sort of translation services or documents people with limited English proficiency could expect. Through its work with the Housing Acuerdo, the Latino Policy Forum and partners were able to create policy change that led to a passed ordinance on the city-level and continued work with CHA to ensure that all individuals have access to public housing. The relationship with Housing Acuerdo members provides the means in which the Forum can effectively shape local policy that ensures a better future for Latinos and other Chicago communities.” – Gypsy Gavia

The Forum regularly convenes the Housing Acuerdo members who reflect the diverse Latino communities of Chicago. Acuerdo is a Spanish word meaning mutual understanding, agreement, or accord. Acuerdos have one fundamental and important function: to work together to develop and execute priorities and a common agenda. Our Housing Acuerdo started in 2011 and currently has thirty participating organizations.These organizations know first-hand the challenges that Chicago’s low income communities face with regard to lack of available affordable housing. With this knowledge, they help shape our research and policy recommendations so we can further explore advocacy strategies and policies that adequately address the housing challenges of the Latino community. Without the support of these members, the Latino Policy Forum wouldn’t have the power it currently has to best represent the challenges of the Latino community.

The Field Foundation has been core to our housing work. Other housing funders are more interested in direct service providers, so it’s wonderful that the Field understands the importance of the policy work we do and is willing to both partner and invest in it. One of the great things about the Field that Forum leadership truly appreciates is the foundation’s funding philosophy of “communities know best.” This is so refreshing and reassuring in times when other foundations seem to be constantly re-determining their priorities. Our program officer and the leadership at Field have been very accessible and participatory when we invite them to our events and programs. Heather Smith [Senior Program Officer] participates in our Housing Acuerdo and has provided her expertise, ensuring that our partnership is effective and creates a lasting impact on the organizations we serve. Her presence enables her to hear first-hand and observe, learn, and contribute to the conversation. Given the challenges of a busy schedule, it feels like she really has gone the extra mile, resulting in a stronger relationship between the Forum and the Field.

The Forum knows that the state, region and especially the entire city of Chicago has felt the effects of the recent economic crisis, as more than one in five Chicagoans are now living in poverty – that’s a seven percent increase from 2000 poverty levels. According to Census American Community Survey (ACS) data, the median household income in Chicago decreased by about four percent from $48,911 in 2000 to $46,877 in 2010. However, the economic and housing vulnerability is highly concentrated among Latino households. According to 2010 ACS data, 70 percent of Latinos in Chicago earned at or below 80 percent of AMI (i.e. income that is at or below $60,100). Despite the fact that Latinos and other Chicagoans have lost wealth and become more impoverished, rent prices have continued to rise over the years, making the search for affordable rental housing ever more challenging.

Also, as of 2016, Latinos make up 25% and 23% of the income eligibility population for the CHA’s Public Housing and Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program, respectively. However, according to the CHA 2015 Q4 report, Latinos make up only 10% of the Public Housing program and 9% of the HCV program. Given the need for affordable housing, the Forum expects to continue the work it has begun to accomplish greater parity in Latino access and inclusion in public housing and housing services.

Many Latino leaders in the community will look to see how Field’s new leadership reinforces or identifies new priorities and focuses for the foundation. The Field Foundation historically shared a philosophy that communities know better about addressing their own issues. There’s a great respect that exists between the foundation and the Latino community because of that deep listening process.

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© 2016 Field Foundation
All photos by Olga Lopez