Good morning Vice-chair Ervin and members of the City Council Committee on the Budget and Government Operations:
On behalf of the Board of Commissioners and staff, I hereby submit the following statement in support of the Mayor's 2017 Budget Recommendation for the Chicago Commission on Human Relations (CCHR).
Discrimination and prejudice continue to serve as barriers in equal access to jobs, housing, and public accommodations, and are often the basis for community tensions and hate crimes. Thus, the CCHR continues bilingual outreach efforts with community based organizations, chambers of commerce, schools, and faith based institutions, to educate communities on their rights and their obligations to avert discrimination as provided under the Chicago Human Rights and Fair Housing Ordinances. We also work to prevent hate crimes and, upon request, respond to intergroup tensions through educational trainings, mediations, and peace circles.
Delivering a quality and timely neutral complaint process for individuals who seek to file a discrimination complaint is the primary means by which to deliver on the City's mandate to address bias and discrimination. When a person files a discrimination complaint with our office, it is most often because they believe they have been wrongfully denied an employment opportunity, a place to live, or access to a public place or service.
The CCHR has continued to strive to deliver the most thorough and efficient investigations of discrimination complaints possible. High quality and timely investigations are essential to protecting the rights of both parties to a complaint, and help ensure that justice is served. Currently, we are completing 55 percent of investigations within 180 days of filing as compared to 47 percent this time last year.
In 2016, the City Council approved three new amendments to the Chicago Human Rights and Fair Housing Ordinances. The first added a new protected class for military status which prohibits discrimination against veterans and active duty members of the military in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, and bonding. The amendment seeks to protect past and present members of the military who may encounter discrimination in obtaining employment, renting or purchasing a home, and other areas.
The second change amended the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance (CHRO) to remove the identification requirement for the use of a public accommodation that is distinctly private in nature, such as a restroom, when the perceived gender identity of a person differs from the gender-designated facility sought to be used by the person. As previously written, the ordinance created an undue burden on the transgender community, many of whom may not have the requisite identification.
The third change added retaliation as a basis for a fair housing complaint. This now makes it illegal for a landlord, seller, real estate agent, etc. to take a retaliatory action against a person who has previously filed a complaint of discrimination against the person or entity with the CCHR.
In addition to the amendments to the ordinances, the CCHR has worked extensively with the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) to develop new regulations for public accommodation disability complaints. The new regulations closely mirror the regulations of the ADA thereby making them more familiar to small businesses and attorneys. The goal of this initiative is to improve compliance with the ordinance and help to make more businesses accessible to people with disabilities. The regulations were approved by our Board of Commissioners this year and will become effective January 1, 2017.
Hate Crimes continue to be a concern for all communities, but they are particularly problematic for people of color, different religious groups, immigrants, people with disabilities, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Chicagoans. Hate crimes run the range from simple battery and property damage to death, and can invoke fear among entire communities.
Our first line of defense in fighting hate crimes is education, starting with our youth. The CCHR provides workshops on bullying to schools and youth organizations. We have also found it helpful to provide these workshops to parents as well so they can have a better understanding of this problem. Our workshop helps parents to tell whether their child has been a victim of bullying, or if their child may in fact be a bully. The workshop can be delivered in both English and Spanish. As of September 30, 2016, the CCHR has delivered 52 workshops to nearly 1,400 participants.
At the CCHR, we believe the most effective communication is done face to face. While that's not always possible, we prioritize going out into the community to tell the public about our services and to inform them about the legal protections afforded all who live, work, or visit the city under the Human Rights Ordinances. Here is just a summary of some of our outreach initiatives thus far in 2016:
We are proud of our initiatives and look forward to further innovations in program delivery. The ultimate goal is to create a more efficient and effective Commission that better serves the needs of Chicagoans facing discrimination. We hope that you will give our budget request your most thoughtful consideration so we may continue and improve upon this important work. Thank you.
Chairman and Commissioner