Longtime Resident Challenges Chicago Housing Authority’s “Stigmatizing” Drug Testing Program

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
August 15, 2013 12:00 am

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CHICAGO – A Chicago man is challenging a controversial policy of the Chicago Housing Authority forcing CHA residents in mixed-income housing developments to undergo annual, humiliating drug testing. Joseph Peery, who lives in the Parkside of Old Town mixed-income housing development on West Division, today asked a federal court in Chicago to block the practice. Under the CHA policy, renters subsidized by CHA are forced to take a drug test every time they renew their lease. Millions of Americans across the nation enjoy federal and state housing benefits including housing vouchers, tenancy in traditional CHA developments and even mortgage subsidies and tax deductions for their mortgage interest, without being subjected to drug testing.

Mr. Peery has lived in the Parkside development, on the site of the CHA’s former Cabrini Green housing project, since 2010. Mr. Peery previously lived in a traditional CHA apartment in the same area. He does not use drugs. Indeed, in the 1990s, he worked for a project aimed at dissuading youth and adults in Cabrini Green from using drugs. He has taken and passed the CHA’s suspicionless drug test four times.

“It is embarrassing,” said Mr. Peery today. “Every year, I am required to go into the business office of Parkside, urinate in a jar, and then hand it to an office staffer. Anyone working in or visiting the office can watch the process.”

The class action complaint filed today by the ACLU of Illinois, on behalf of Mr. Peery, outlines the humiliating, invasive, and stigmatizing nature of the tests and asserts that they violate Mr. Peery’s freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures under the U.S. and Illinois Constitutions. The ACLU of Illinois has opposed these CHA drug tests for many years, advocating against them before the CHA Board and in other places.

The ACLU and Mr. Peery ask the federal court to bar the CHA from administering the drug test to Mr. Peery in the future.

“This misguided policy unfairly stigmatizes Mr. Peery and CHA residents like him,” said Adam Schwartz, senior staff counsel at the ACLU of Illinois. “It presumes he is guilty of illegal drug use, solely because he is a public housing resident, until he proves otherwise with a drug test.”

“No one should have to suffer an invasion of their privacy – like forced urinalysis – in order to live in their own home,” said Karen Sheley, staff counsel at the ACLU of Illinois.

A copy of the complaint filed today is available here.

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