CHA enacts $13 minimum wage, opens all wait lists

The Chicago Housing Authority will require its contractors and subcontractors to pay their employees a $13-an-hour minimum wage, the agency will announce Monday — the same day it will simultaneously open all three housing assistance wait lists for the first time ever.

“We are proud to join Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the City of Chicago’s key effort to raise the minimum wage. Supporting this hourly wage increase will strengthen the economic job pathway for many contracted employees,” said Michael R. Merchant, CEO of the agency that on Monday will historically open wait lists for all three federal housing programs— public housing, housing choice vouchers and private property rental assistance — at the same time.

With the $13-an-hour requirement, CHA becomes the second city agency to raise the wage floor for contractors and subcontractors, following a September executive order and subsequent urging by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The Emanuel order required City of Chicago contractors to pay employees a minimum wage of $13 an hour on city procurements after Oct. 1. They are currently required to pay a “living wage” of $11.93 an hour — more than Illinois’ current minimum wage of $8.25 an hour, and the current federal minimum wage of $7.25.

The Chicago Transit Authority was the first to follow Emanuel’s lead. On Oct. 15, it adopted the $13 minimum for CTA contractors and subcontractors for procurements after Nov. 15, primarily for work such as landscaping, janitorial services, snow removal and security. Contractors who do not comply risk losing their CTA business.

Other agencies being prodded include Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Park District, City Colleges and Public Building Commission.

Minimum wage remains a hot-button issue as mid-term elections near.

Democrats hope a non-binding referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot — asking Illinois voters whether the statewide minimum should be raised from $8.25 an hour to $10 — will help boost voter turnout.

Meanwhile, Emanuel is pushing forward on the populist issue after embracing a mayoral task force’s recommendations this summer that Chicago’s minimum wage be raised to $13 an hour by 2018. The mayor initially said he’d wait until after the Nov. 4 election and the following veto session to decide whether to ask the City Council to act, then switched gears as the issue gathered steam, saying he’ll push for a vote on a $13 minimum wage for Chicago, no matter what the General Assembly does.

A phased-in $13-an-hour minimum wage would impact 400,000 Chicagoans.

The mayor’s executive order covers some 1,000 contracted workers. At sister agencies, some 2,400 workers typically employed as bus drivers and aides, custodial crews, and landscaping and maintenance workers, would benefit.

CHA adopts the $13 minimum wage as it announces opening of its WaitList Lottery Registration for all three of its federal housing programs at one time, which it has never done before.

It is the first time low-income families and individuals will be able to apply online for either CHA housing, a housing choice [Section 8] voucher, or private property rental assistance, all at the same time. Typically, one list or another opens up intermittently, with years in between, and as separate programs.

Registration will be open Oct. 27 through Nov. 24. Successful applicants will then be selected via electronic lottery in early 2015, to be placed on the wait list.

“I encourage all qualified low-income households to participate,” said Merchant.

Online registration is free at www.thechawaitlist.org.

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