October 24, 2018

Lesar Lecture to focus on affordable housing as a human right

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Housing policies in the United States and efforts to legislate and enforce fair housing will be among the key points in a lecture next week at the SIU School of Law.

Juan Carlos Linares, executive director of the Latin United Community Housing Association, a Chicago-based affordable housing agency, will present the Hiram H. Lesar Distinguished Lecture on Oct. 30 at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. In its 36th year, LUCHA assists more than 8,000 clients in the Midwest each year by offering housing counseling, foreclosure prevention and legal assistance.

Linares’ presentation, “Advancing Housing as a Human Right,” is at 5 p.m. Oct. 30 in the SIU School of Law Auditorium. The event is free, and the public is invited.

This is the 22nd lecture in the series established to honor founding Dean Hiram H. Lesar. A reception will follow the lecture in the law school’s formal lounge.

Media Advisory

Reporters, photographers and camera crews are welcome to attend the Lesar Distinguished Lecture with Juan Carlos Linares at 5 p.m. on Oct. 30 in the SIU School of Law Auditorium. For more information or to arrange interviews, contact Michele Mekel, director of external relations, at mmekel@siu.edu or 618/453-8768.

Housing is a ‘baseline’ for basic needs and offers stability  

Linares said housing serves as a platform for local and national policy making, which can drive the economy but also separate groups. 

“Whether we are discussing the unbalanced distribution of subsidies to homeowners versus renters, or the historic discrimination that has kept communities of color from opportunity and advancement, housing has been the root of many of our contemporary social ills,” Linares said. “But it is also a vehicle for which genuine individual participation can drive economic growth, social mobility, environmental sustainability and policy innovation.” 

Founding law school dean cared deeply about civil rights

Interim Dean Cindy Buys said with unfolding public housing crises exemplified by situations in Cairo and East St. Louis, Linares’ discussion on housing issues is extremely topical and important. She has worked with Linares on the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission

“I know and respect his deep commitment to human rights in general and to the right to safe, adequate and affordable housing in particular,” she said. “We are delighted that he has agreed to be this year’s Lesar Lecturer to further educate our community about housing issues.” 

Housing is a ‘human right’

In determining housing opportunities, Linares said factors include interpreting equitable housing funding, how communities and neighborhoods are planned, and the impact on social mobility, climate resilience and health outcomes.

The lecture will look at:

  • The nation’s current “built environment.”
  • How people are housed.
  • How housing policy decisions are made.
  • Comparative approaches to housing in other nations.
  • Current case studies in housing policy, particularly as they relate to building inclusive community amenities that could overwhelm and displace a community’s original residents.

LUCHA owns and operates 198 affordable housing units in Chicago’s Humboldt Park, Logan Square and West Town neighborhoods. The organization recently built the first multi-family “passive house” building in Illinois and completed a first-of-its-kind Health Action Plan for its Tierra Linda housing development along Chicago’s 606 Trail.

The organization works with the local utilities and partners to measure and model energy savings with the hope that each tenant can save between 75 percent and 95 percent in energy costs in the first year, or about $1,100 annually.

‘Passive House’ is one of organization’s proudest achievements

LUCHA worked with residents in Chicago’s Humboldt Park community and partnered with local contractors and architects to build “the state’s most energy-efficient multi-unit building,” Energy efficiency and environmental resilience are keys to future housing policies and community development, Linares said.

The need for affordable housing

The term “affordable” usually means no more than 30 percent of a person’s income should go toward rent or housing costs, according to Linares. The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University shows nationally for 2018, most lower-income households pay more than half of their income for housing. Research indicates that Southern Illinois tracks the national trend where 40 to 50 percent of residents are “cost-burdened in their housing,” he said.

“The evidence makes clear that nationally, regionally and in Southern Illinois, there is a profound need for affordable housing options,” Linares said.

Gift from parents was a strong and daily push toward education

Linares grew up in the Bellwood neighborhood of Chicago; his mother is from Peru, and his father is from Guatemala. Fearing police harassment and gangs, and crime that was taking hold, Linares said he was able to use his achievements in high school as “both an escape from my daily circumstances and to learn about the history that shaped the places we lived in.”

Meeting his wife, Monica, who is also a human rights attorney, while in college, Linares said they both realized a law school education was best. Linares said he knew he wanted to dedicate his career to civil rights and human rights while working with a local human rights lawyer in southern Mexico defending Guatemalan immigrants.

Service on several committees and boards

Linares chairs the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and has a mayoral appointment to the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund Board. He is also on the boards of the Urban Theater Company and The Woodstock Institute, and serves on Northeastern Illinois University's El Centro Campus Advisory Council.

A University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign graduate with degrees in sociology and Spanish, Linares earned his law degree from DePaul University’s College of Law. He has an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and an LL.M. in international business law from The John Marshall Law School. 

Lecture honors founding dean 

Hiram H. Lesar was the first dean of the SIU School of Law, which was established in 1973. While he retired as dean in 1980, Lesar continued to teach at the law school. Lesar died in 1997. In 1999, he was posthumously awarded the Founders’ Medal by the School of Law, the highest honor awarded by the law school.