North Shore housing advocates are cheering a recent change to a county ordinance that aims to protect Section 8 voucher holders from discrimination.
More than 12,000 people in suburban Cook County receive housing assistance through housing choice vouchers, commonly referred to as Section 8 vouchers. Landlords can no longer simply opt out of the voucher program after the county board voted last month to amend its human rights ordinance, said Brendan Saunders, director of advocacy and community organizing for the Winnetka-based Open Communities.
“Before, if a tenant had a housing voucher, they wouldn’t even consider Winnetka — and they still may not,” Saunders said. “But now they can’t be denied just because of the subsidy.”
It’s too early to tell what kind of impact this will have in affluent North Shore communities, where affordable rental options are scarce, Saunders said. Tenants with vouchers pay 30 percent of their income toward housing costs; the government pays the rest — up to a point.
In Wilmette, there are nine voucher holders, according to numbers provided by the Housing Authority of Cook County. In Winnetka, there’s one.
“People probably think, let them go somewhere else,” said Tom Miranda, Winnetka’s voucher holder. “But an apartment’s an apartment anywhere in the United States.”
Miranda, 44, lives in a one-bedroom apartment on Elm Street. Previously, he lived in Evanston. A few years ago, he had been volunteering at the election polls at the Winnetka Community House when he decided he would look for an apartment.
Originally from Chicago, Miranda said he recently attended online college courses, while working as a salesman for Marketstar Corporation, a Utah-based company.
But he does neither now, as his health has deteriorated in the past couple of years. He struggles daily with complications from diabetes, Miranda said. A recovering alcoholic, Miranda is also an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Wilmette.
“My life sometimes falls apart for health and sometime economic reasons,” he said, sitting at his kitchen table. “It’s been a rocky road.”