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CHA kills controversial plan to drug test residents

Residents supporters Chicago Housing Authority properties speak out against proposed system-wide change tenant selectimandating drug testing for all existing prospective

Residents and supporters of Chicago Housing Authority properties speak out against a proposed system-wide change in tenant selection, mandating drug testing for all existing and prospective tenants outside the CHA offices, Wednesday, May 31, 2011. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 22, 2011 2:11AM

A controversial proposal to require all adults who currently live in, or apply for Chicago public housing to be tested for drugs — including senior citizens — is dead, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

Also, the agency decided to keep the so-called “innocent tenant defense” for residents, referring to evictions initiated when a drug-related or violent crime has been committed by a relative or guest of the leaseholding tenant — without the tenant’s knowledge or involvement.

The drug testing policy and the elimination of the innocent tenant defense were among changes to the Chicago Housing Authority’s lease and its Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy (ACOP) proposed by its recently resigned CEO, Lewis Jordan.

Chairman Jim Reynolds announced the board’s decisions Tuesday afternoon.

“CHA is not making any changes to its ACOP regarding the proposed drug testing policy and the proposed revision to the tenant defense,” CHA spokeswoman Kellie O’Connell-Miller confirmed. “The CHA received a tremendous amount of feedback during the public comment period, and simply, the result of that is that CHA will not move forward.”

The agency ignited a storm of controversy with the changes first proposed on May 13. The blanket drug-testing policy that would have covered anyone 18 years or older in any CHA developments had residents and housing advocates crying foul.

The American Civil Liberties Union accused the public agency of seeking to place a double standard on the poor.

Under the policy, a positive drug test would have subjected leaseholders to eviction proceedings.

“The tenants are ecstatic. They were there, and they are very happy today,” said Robert Whitfield, attorney for the Central Advisory Council, made up of tenant leaders of CHA properties citywide. “CHA made a wise decision. There were just too many issues associated with drug testing. As someone once said, you have to measure what you might gain by what you might lose.”

Agency officials had argued they needed more tools to fight crime, particularly the drug scourge, in CHA developments.

Over the past few weeks, tenants held several protest marches on the offices of CHA and the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development over the controversial measures, and a public hearing earlier this month drew a packed house — punctuated by the indignation of senior citizens.

Then came last week’s resignation by Jordan — effective at month’s end — as he faced mounting controversy over questionable charges to his government credit card, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel declining to guarantee his job.

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