A new bill in Congress would fast-track new affordable housing development in East Chicago.
The bill, from U.S. Rep. Todd Young (R-Ind.), aims to help more than 300 families who have to move out of the city's West Calumet Housing Complex in the next couple of months.
That's after federal officials told the city this summer that the neighborhood's soil contained high levels of lead.
In a statement, Young says he hopes the bill would create housing for residents that leave the city to return to in the next few years. Right now, there's not enough affordable housing in East Chicago for everyone who has to move.
The bill would give the state of Indiana $8.5 million in low-income housing tax credits to spend in the area in the next two years. It has the backing of East Chicago state Rep. Lonnie Randolph, a Democrat.
East Chicago landlord Clay Brooks thinks the tax credits are a good step. But he says more immediate action would mean fewer residents have to move away at all.
"They really don't want to move outside of East Chicago," he says. "But the problem is, the landlords here -- we just need money to fix up, to help out."
Several of the units Brooks owns need just a few thousand dollars in repairs to meet the requirements of the federal public housing vouchers that displaced residents are receiving. Brooks says he's reached out to city authorities and local nonprofits about getting grants or loans to help make those repairs, but hasn't heard anything back.
Indiana political analyst Ed Feigenbaum says the state or private entities could leverage Young’s proposal as "a 2017 federal guarantee" to provide loans or other relief more quickly.
"It certainly cannot hurt," he says. "The ability to get something started, to get the ball rolling for the people of East Chicago is certainly helpful."
A recent count from federal officials said so far, around 10 families who have to move have been able to find new housing.