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Woodford County Housing Authority revamps voucher waitlist after civil rights complaint

Woodford County Housing Authority
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Woodford County Housing Authority

The Woodford County Housing Authority is scrapping its preference for people who already live or work in the county for its housing voucher program.

This comes after the housing authority entered into a voluntary agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last month.

People who live or work in Woodford County were given 15 preference points for the waitlist in its Housing Choice Voucher, or Section 8, program. That's allowed under HUD's rules as long as it doesn't create disparate impacts on protected classes, but it was the only consideration for making preferred placements in Woodford County public housing.

In a 2022 civil rights complaint to HUD, Prairie State Legal Services said the waitlist preference maintained the county's racial status quo, and said they suspected the system may have been crafted to exclude people from Peoria — where there's a much higher chance an applicant will be a person of color.

Thomas Dennis is managing attorney for Prairie State Legal Services in Peoria and Galesburg. He says the policy was disproportionately impacting people of color.

"They had two separate wait lists that were functioning for those that were in county and those out of county," he said. "African Americans only accounted for, I think, 5.6% of those in county, whereas African Americans accounted for 41.8% of those out of county."

According to the complaint, only one out-of-county voucher was offered to someone without the work/residency preference points from 2015 through 2018, and that voucher was ported from Peoria. All others from out-of-county were still on the waitlist as of 2019. Only four Black families entered the county's Housing Choice Voucher program from 2015-2018.

The Woodford County Housing Authority doesn't admit to any violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in its voluntary agreement with HUD, but the agency is required to make changes, including reordering the waitlist — with those waiting the longest shifted to the top.

"The main things are that the residency preferences (are) gone and that they are actively supposed to market to residents in Peoria County to apply for the vouchers there in Woodford County," Dennis said.

HUD will monitor the Woodford County Housing Authority as it implements the agreed-to changes.

The Woodford County Housing Authority didn't reply to a request for comment.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.