Monthly Archives: December 2015

Sewer and Water Management Rates to Rise Across Chicago

water drainPeople don’t know much about waste management and sewer systems. A recent Angie’s list poll reported that 78% of respondents weren’t aware of what trenchless sewer technology does — even though it’s one of the most commonly utilized plumbing technologies around today. But when it affects their yearly utility bill, homeowners are much more apt to pay attention.

Rising Sewage Rates Around Chicago
In East Chicago, the city council recently approved an ordinance that will effectively increase sewer rates for residents, as well as for commercial and industrial ratepayers.

The rise in rates reflects a need for more funding in order to prepare for and develop a sewer overflow long-term control plan.

“When we get major storm events, it can overwhelm our collection system and then that’s when you get these illicit discharges of sewage into the Grand Calumet River,” said Greg Crowley, utilities director of Chicago. “And so our implementation of the control plan really works to mitigate those discharges so we don’t get those in the future.”

The waste management plan is in two phases, and will cost around $12 million — resulting in an 87-cent increase on water bills across the board.

Residents in Elmhurst can expect similar changes in their water and water maintenance/sewer rates, of about $7 a month for a four-person household.

Elmhurst’s changes reflect a recent 5% increase in the rates that the DuPage Water Commission charges the city for water. The increase is planned to take effect in May of 2016, but is certainly subject to change.

“Should we get something different from the DuPage Water Commission, either up or down, we’ll get it back to committee,” said Finance Committee Chairman Kevin York.

When questioned by the committee, the rate recommendation was unanimous with all members voting for the increase. If the Elmhurst rate increase is approved by the full city council, the new rates will apply to use billed on or after January 4.

Latinos Demand Access to More Affordable Options from Chicago Housing Authority

pilsenprotestsEmbattled Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is facing yet another controversy as Latinos make a call for more subsidized housing options throughout the city.

According to Medill Reports Chicago, local minority leaders are looking to the Chicago Housing Authority to alleviate displacement and gentrification pressures on Latino neighborhoods, which often leaves families without affordable housing options.

“It’s a big shock for families in a neighborhood that’s been low-income for so long,” said Byron Sigcho, a member of the community activist group Pilsen Alliance.

Almost a quarter of the Latino community in Chicago is income-eligible for CHA public housing, yet low participation rates in the program are still being reported. Surveys suggest that a lack of knowledge about the CHA is primarily to blame for this confusing trend.

“It’s not that they don’t want to live in public housing, but that they don’t know” about the services, said Savannah Clement, the housing manager at the Latino Policy Forum. “It speaks to CHA’s poor outreach strategy.”

The average American moves about 12 times in their life, and that number is even higher for low-income families of minority descent. While it is reported that 25% of Chicago’s Latinos were eligible for public housing in 2014, they comprised only 10% of the population in these units.

“Latinos are participating at less than half the rate they should be based on income,” Clement added. “Without the consent decree there is no accountability.”

The public housing crisis is yet another issue that Mayor Emanuel must deal with on the heels of the Laquan McDonald shooting. According to New Republic, construction of low-income housing has decreased substantially since Emanuel took office in 2011.

Between 2007 and 2010, the CHA rebuilt approximately 900 units per year. In 2011, the number of rebuilt units plummeted to 424, and only 49 units were constructed in 2014.

The widespread concern with access to public housing has grown to the point where the Pilsen Alliance has threatened legal action against the CHA. In 1996, the CHA settled a class-action lawsuit, filed by Latinos United, which alleged unequal access to public housing services for Latinos.

To compound their troubles, the CHA dropped its long-standing development contract with the Hispanic Housing Development Corporation (HHDC) in August, puzzling the Latino community.

“We were flabbergasted,” said Paul Roldan, president and chief executive officer of the HHDC. He added that it was a “huge mistake on the part of the city and the CHA.”

Despite the controversy, the CHA has made some progress in their efforts to provide affordable housing to Latinos. Yahaira Battiata, an employee of a local organization that serves low-income Latinos, notes that the CHA now offers translation and language services in their programs.

Clement also said she has seen progress, adding that “that’s what’s so strange about all this.” It seems as if there is still much to be figured out between the Latino community in Chicago and the CHA.

Illinois House Member Proposes Legislation to Recall Embattled Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Chicago skyline at nightIt’s been a terrible year for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and a local politician has introduced a bill that could make it even worse, by potentially leading to his removal from office.

According to MSNBC, La Shawn Ford, a Democrat who represents Illinois in the House of Representatives, has proposed legislation that would provide a conceivable path for voters to recall the mayor.

Last week, the bill was co-sponsored by State Rep. Mary Flowers. As of 2015, there is no Illinois law that could lead to a mayor being recalled, but Ford’s legislation would create “a procedure for an election to recall the Mayor of Chicago” that would be “effective immediately.”

If passed, the legislation would amend a 1941 law that prohibits Illinois mayors from being recalled. While there have only been a total of 27 Constitutional amendments to date, legislative changes on the state level are much more common and easier to pass.

The proposed bill comes on the heels of intense criticism being directed towards the mayor for his response to the police shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014.

A dashcam video of the incident was released this year, sparking widespread protests that led to Emanuel firing his police superintendent. Last week, the U.S. Justice Department announced a federal investigation into the Chicago Police Department.

Unfortunately, the Laquan McDonald controversy is just one of many problems that has plagued Emanuel since his reelection in April. According to Mother Jones, the Chicago Teachers Union recently announced that 96% of its members have voted to strike.

The union is displeased with the limited resources they have compared to neighboring districts, as well as excessive standardized testing and other unnecessary paperwork that makes their jobs more difficult.

Emanuel has drawn the ire of the union for several years, and the potential strike is no surprise to the community. In 2013, the mayor closed 50 schools throughout Chicago, citing their poor performance on standardized tests.

Earlier this year, the Chicago public school district laid off 1,500 staffers, which gave the Chicago Teachers Union another reason to oppose Emanuel. In fact, the layoffs and school closings nearly caused Emanuel to be unseated in 2014 when he ran against Jesse “Chuy” Garcia, a candidate supported by the union.

In response to Rep. Ford’s proposal to recall him from office, Emanuel insisted that he will not be stepping down.

“I am the mayor. As I said the other day, I own it. I take responsibility for what happened, because it happened on my watch,” Emanuel said in a speech to the Chicago City Council.

There is no timetable for the legislation to be approved or rejected, but the court of public opinion seems to have already made a ruling on Emanuel’s fate in office.

Religious Leaders Beseech the Chicago Community To Dispel Anti-Muslim Sentiments

Paris beautiful street in the evening with lamppostsFollowing the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, Muslim communities all over the world have reported instances of Islamophobia, blatant discrimination, and even violence toward innocent members of their communities.

In Chicago, prominent leaders and community members decided to take action and promote peace in the city.

As the Chicago Sun Times reported, the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago convened on Wednesday, Nov. 25, in order to speak out against the “wave of anti-Muslim discrimination sweeping across the country.”

“We urge everyone in metropolitan Chicago to oppose discriminatory actions and behavior against all members of religious communities, and particularly, at this time in our history, against Muslims,” the Council stated.

The Council specifically called on American media groups and political leaders to “desist from inflammatory rhetoric” when talking about Muslim groups. Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson, in particular, have already garnered plenty of media attention for their anti-Muslim remarks, and many people in the Muslim community fear that these remarks are creating widespread anti-Muslim sentiments in the United States.

Although Illinois mosques have not experienced the same number of hate crimes as mosques in other states, according to the Chicago Tribune, members of the community have been working tirelessly to keep Muslim residents safe, whether they’re walking down the street or praying in a mosque.

Around 100 Muslim men recently marched through Chicago’s Loop, ABC News 7 reported, to commemorate the death of the seventh century revolutionary leader and prophet Hussain. Those who organized and participated in the march said that Hussain’s teachings of peace and equality have never been more important to commemorate.

Islamophobic sentiments were present in the U.S. after the Sept. 11 attacks, yet many people believe that anti-Muslim sentiments are even more prevalent after the attacks on Paris, which killed 129 civilians and injured more than 350.

Refugees from ISIS-controlled territories, especially Syria and Iraq, have been fleeing their home countries and settling temporarily in European refugee camps throughout Greece, Germany, and France.

Ironically, just as France was celebrating its 226th anniversary of independence on July 14 this past summer, media outlets began reporting that the French people were less than welcoming toward the foreigners who sought refuge in the French town of Calais.

Although French President Francois Hollande announced that the country would officially welcome at least 30,000 Syrian refugees into its country over the next two years — especially after the atrocities that ISIS had planned in an attempt to derail refugee resettlement — the U.S. has yet to follow suit.

UnitedHealth Group Expects Significant Losses This Year — And This Might Be the Beginning of the End for Obamacare

The cost of healthcareUnitedHealth Group recently announced that it might leave the Affordable Care Act exchanges in 2017, and the Chicago community could be in trouble if this happens.

As the largest insurer in the country, UnitedHealth Group announced that it would very likely see significant losses on its individual healthcare plans during 2015 and 2016, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Just a month ago, the company had “expressed optimism about its exchange-related business” during 2016, the Tribune reported.

UnitedHealthcare, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, even expanded individual policy products from one Illinois county in 2015 to 27 counties in 2016.

However, UnitedHealth Group recently updated its national forecast and, according to Forbes, it is simply losing too much money because younger — and healthier — Americans haven’t been too keen on signing up for Obamacare. Without this population’s contributions, the insurer has been operating at a loss in 34 states across the country.

CEO Stephen Hemsley stated that the insurer is considering pulling out of the exchange because it now expects to lose at least $700 million by the end of 2015, and all because it has covered more than 500,000 through the ACA exchange.

“We cannot sustain these losses,” Hemsley said. “We can’t really subsidize a marketplace that doesn’t appear at the moment to be sustaining itself.”

Already, insurers have begun increasing premiums and deductibles in an attempt to cover the missing funds — and this is making ACA even more unpopular.

As Forbes reported, a family of four in Illinois can face premiums of $1,200 per month, plus an annual deductible of $12,700. In many cases, younger and healthier people are choosing to pay the tax penalty of $325 (or 2% of household income) instead of paying thousands of dollars for a plan.

If UnitedHealth Group does fold, it would put Obamacare in serious hot water.

With women’s healthcare in Illinois, for example, the shuttering of Obamacare could be disastrous. Illinois is currently one of 15 states with a law that makes it mandatory for insurers to cover infertility treatment and procedures, which is pretty significant considering that around 90% of all infertility cases are treated with (very expensive) drug therapy or surgical procedures.

Furthermore, as HealthDay recently reported, since ACA went into effect, more young women have received cervical cancer diagnoses in earlier stage.

Without ACA and its mandatory coverage policies, women may not be able to afford these basic — and often preventative — diagnoses and procedures.

Only time will tell if UnitedHealth Group can pull through and make it past 2017 — but if it can’t, then Obamacare may be forced to close its marketplace doors, too.