When Wanda met Michael, he was staying at the Pacific Garden Mission shelter. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic meant he was doing an apartment search virtually, which was a challenge compounded by his disability. He wasn’t sure if he could trust that photos would line up with the reality of the homes he looked at, and he risked committing to a place that might not meet his needs. But he didn’t want to lose his housing voucher from the Chicago Housing Authority, which would expire if he didn’t use it. Vouchers are hard to come by—only 1 out of every 4 eligible households actually receives one, and wait lists can be years long.
Michael came to Access Living, whose mission is to support people with disabilities in a multitude of ways, including advocacy, peer support, independent living skills, and transition support. There, he met Wanda Lopez, who has been a housing counselor for over two decades and has worked with Access Living since 2017. She originally became a housing counselor because “[t]here was such a great need for the communities that we served to make sure low to moderate income families knew their rights & responsibilities in the areas of rental, pre-purchase & foreclosure counseling.” After 20 years in the industry, Wanda’s belief that education is integral to ending discriminatory housing policies has only grown stronger, which is why she is so proud to now be working with Access Living.
Wanda worked with Michael to support him in finding a home to rent and transitioning from the shelter to his own apartment. Together, they submitted documents and an application to the CHA (Chicago Housing Authority) for his voucher, and Wanda followed up to make sure that his briefing would be accessible. Thankfully, things worked out: both Michael and Wanda persevered, he was able to use his voucher, and now he is living in his own apartment for the first time in years.
COVID-19 makes the work of housing counselors like Wanda work more important than ever: clients are facing even more barriers as they search for affordable homes to rent or buy. Wanda is ready to help them as they navigate these challenges. “I am proud to work for an organization that not only advocates for the disabled community but more importantly we teach them to advocate for themselves as well,” she says.