The Chicago Housing Authority has thousands of vacant units of housing, much of it rehabbed but left unoccupied, according to a citywide housing coalition.
The Chicago Housing Initiative  will release data showing “a growing epidemic of vacant public housing units” outside the CHA board meeting, 2915 N Leavitt, at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, September 20.
Calling it “a senseless waste of desperately needed housing,” the coalition is calling on CHA to immediately begin leasing all rehabbed and habitable public housing units. The group is seeking a meeting with CHA interim chief Carlos Ponce.
According to the Housing Initiative, the CHA has over 6,000 vacant units in family and senior housing, including more than 3,300 rehabbed units. The group’s figures show that only 68 percent of CHA’s family housing is occupied.
Meanwhile there are over 47,000 families on CHA’s waiting list, in addition to thousands of seniors.
The vacancies raises questions about CHA’s claims of progress on its Plan For Transformation. Thousands of units reported as “delivered” by the agency have apparently sat unoccupied for years.
The group points to developments like Lake Parc Place on the southeast lakefront, with 280 units fully rehabbed in 2004, half of which are now vacant; and Altgeld Gardens on the far South Side, where 268 rehabbed units are vacant.
They’ve found scattered-site developments on the South and West Sides that were rehabbed several years ago but remain vacant, and they continue to hear of such cases, said Leah Levinger of the Housing Initiative. CHA “seems to have just forgotten about them,” she said.
In West Garfield Park, 181 units of senior housing in the Parkview Apartments have been vacant since the building was closed for repairs in 2007, despite $725,000 in federal stimulus funds spent on plumbing and boiler repairs since then.
Part of the problem is that “CHA ends leasing and vacates developments before they have a plan for what to do with it,” Levinger said.
In cases like Lathrop Homes  and Cabrini Rowhouses , CHA stopped leasing units in 2000 and 2001, promising that rehab was imminent. But a spurt of rehab at Cabrini stopped in 2009 after 146 units were completed, and a decade later, nothing’s been done at Lathrop.
Lathrop residents  called on CHA to lease vacant apartments three years ago, and in 2005 resident groups at Cabrini and Lathrop  called on CHA to open vacant rehabbed units for Hurrican Katrina survivors.
Once a development is below 50 percent occupancy, CHA can move to have it declared obsolete and get approval to demolish it, Levinger said. By not leasing, CHA “can create situations where developments that are structurally sound meet the criteria for that designation.” HUD generally rubber-stamps such applications, she said.
While federal funding for mixed-income redevelopment is increasingly competitive – and private financing for such projects is hard to come by – HUD’s public housing capital fund provides money for rehab and major repairs. CHA has gets over $100 million of such funds yearly, but much of it is diverted to a mixed-income redevelopment program that has stalled, Levinger said.
The Chicago Housing Initiative is a coalition of community organizations working to preserve low-income rental housing. Its member groups work with residents in 58 federally-subsidized developments in the city.
Residents from Cabrini, Lathrop, Lake Parc and several scattered site developments will speak Tuesday.