By SAMANTHA SMYLIE
“At a town hall meeting on the West Side, there was a gentleman with his wife who had five children. He told me that he had $5,000 in city sticker debt and he needed $2,500 to get on a payment plan,” said City Clerk Anna Valencia, during a June 11 speech. “What happened with his debt mounting is that he lost his job and lost his ability to provide for his family. What we’re really doing is putting barriers in front of families when, in government, we should be removing barriers.”
Before moderating a panel discussion titled “Advancing Economic Equity for all Chicago” at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, Valencia announced 14 recommendations by The Chicago Fees, Fines and Access taskforce to reform the city’s fines and fees practices.
Valencia organized a taskforce that included city departments, community advocates, academic institutions — like the University of Chicago and Loyola University — elected officials and residents in December 2018 to examine the city’s fine and fees practices and create short- and long-term goals for the city. The taskforce was created in response to reporting by Propublica Illinois and WBEZ Chicago that showed how the city’s ticketing and debt collection practices disproportionally impacted low-income, African American neighborhoods.
According to Valencia, the taskforce’s recommendations are divided into four categories — creating pathways to compliance, evaluating long-standing practices, improving access and awareness to residents on the city’s policy programs and option and build equity, sustainability and vitality.
“Through these sets of recommendations, we hope to reform and rebuild our city’s collection practices, helping our residents achieve and maintain compliance. Through the implementation of these recommendations, we strive to make our city work for all of its residents no matter what your zip code maybe,” said Valenica. We view these recommendations as a place to start, rather than the end of this work. A down payment on the reforms that we hope to make.”
After the announcement, panelists Helene D. Gayle, president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, Damon Jones, an associate at U. of C.’s Harris School of Public Policy, and Rosazlia Grillier, co-chair of POWER-PAC (Parents Organizaed to Win, Educate and Renew-Policy Action Council) and serves on the Board of Trustees of Community Organizing and Family, discussed about economic justice with Valencia.
When asked, what does economic and racial equity looks like, Gayle said, “As a foundation, we’ve put our greatest focus on this issue of the racial wealth divide came clear that it was really the issue that was undergirding almost everything else that we think about. Many people have seen the (Chicago Sun-Times) article that shows a 30-year life expectancy gap between somebody who lives in Streeterville and somebody who lives in Englewood.
“That is not about medical care, that’s about equity. Everybody should have the opportunity to feed their children, send them to school, have housing security, access to health services and proper nutrition. For us, as a city, to be able to have neighborhoods that all thrive means that we will all do better. ”
When asked about how to prioritize issues, Giller said, “All of these things are interconnected, the one place to start is to bring the human back. These are human beings who are trying to live their best life. It is a struggle enough to be in challenged communities, every day is a struggle. We have to look at the systems that are causing people to experience these disparities.”
During the question-and-answer portion of the discussion, panelists were asked if people need to share in the suffering to understand the importance of equity, Jones pushed back and said “I would think about framing the question differently, everyone can share in the prosperity that can happen if we have a healthy city.”