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CHA falls further behind

Under Mayor Emanuel, CHA production of replacement housing has slowed to a near halt — to the point that it’s virtually impossible to see the agency completing its new Plan Forward goals on time, housing advocates say.

And that’s with a five-year extension to CHA’s original ten-year Plan For Transformation.

The numbers are striking:  in each of the last four years under Mayor Daley, CHA produced between 760 and 880 replacement units.

In 2011, under Emanuel, CHA produced 424 units; the next year, 112 units; and in 2013, just 88.

And in its proposed plan for 2014, which was the subject of a public hearing Wednesday, CHA is proposing a grand total of 40 new public housing units.

In fact, that number includes 12 units at the new Dorchester Artists Housing located in a vacant scattered site that was rehabbed in 2005  — and already counted once toward the PFT’s goal of 25,000 replacement units, said Leah Levinger of Chicago Housing Initiative.

Temporary — and segregated

Most “unit delivery” in next year’s plan will come from project-based vouchers.  HUD granted a waiver to CHA in 2010 to allow the vouchers to be counted toward the PFT goal.  But there are only 302 units projected next year — far from enough to reach Daley-era production levels, or to move significantly toward the ultimate goal.

The voucher program does not provide permanent public housing, Levinger points out.  Contracts with landlords run from five to thirty years.  In more affluent areas, contracts probably tend to be shorter.  In any case, the length of the contract is at the landlord’s discretion.

And a large proportion of the vouchers are being used in poor, racially segregated communities, contrary to the stated goals of the CHA plan. About  2,600 of CHA’s current units are in privately-owned buildings with project-based vouchers.

CHA is also projecting 220 units from a new “real estate acquisition program,” purchasing and rehabbing private apartments or buildings.  These will be permanent public housing — if they are completed.

A precursor program, the “property acquisition initiative,” consistently fell far short of its goals: recent CHA plans projected acquiring nearly 200 units under this initiative, but only 30 units were actually added between 2010 and 2013.

CHA did not respond to a request for comment.

Missing money

Under pressure from CHI — and subsequently from HUD — CHA has stepped up leasing of its vacant units, but by the end of next year it’s still projecting that 20 percent of its “completed” units will be vacant or offline.

Still a mystery is what happens with the $40 million in funding for construction of replacement housing that CHA receives from the federal government annually.  Under an agreement with HUD at the beginning of the PFT, the CHA is apparently free to shift the money to its general operating fund.  Levinger would like to see an accounting of its use.

At a press conference before the Wednesday hearing, Rod Wilson of the Hope Center in Bronzeville said CHA is receiving $2 million a year in federal replacement housing funds for Ickes Homes and over $700,000 a year for LeClaire Courts.  Over a thousand units were demolished at Ickes and over 600 at LeClaire, but after several years, not a single replacement unit has been built at either development, he pointed out.

He called for an immediate halt to the CHA’s practice of demolishing housing prior to planning for its replacement.

“I have a right to return [to LeClaire Courts], but there is nothing to return to,” said Natalie Saffold, a 20-year resident who was president of the LAC at the development near Midway Airport.  LeClaire Courts were demolished four years ago.  “It was the saddest sight I’ve ever seen,” Saffold said.

As of 2010, 16,500 displaced CHA residents had a promised “right to return” to their communities.  Many have been waiting for years and years.

The unused replacement housing funds are on top of an estimated $30 million in federal operating funds that CHA receives for units that are vacant — and millions in federal funding for about 13,000 housing choice vouchers that CHA fails to distribute, according to CHI.

Rehab is most efficient

The only way for CHA to meet the goal of 25,000 revitalized units is through rehabilitation of existing developments like Lathrop Homes, Altgeld Gardens, and Cabrini Rowhouses, Levinger said.

“It’s by far the quickest and most cost-effective means of delivering units,” she said.

The vast majority of units created under the PFT so far have come through renovation of existing developments, she said.

The most disappointing performance has been in mixed-income redevelopments, which have contributed just over 2,000 units to the total.

Levinger draws a contrast between Lathrop Homes — where a plan by private developers proposes eliminating 525 public housing units — and Altgeld Gardens, where an independent planning firm is proposing a plan focused on rehabilitation.

(Altgeld-based People for Community Recovery is still calling for more rehab and less demolition, Cheryl Johnson said Wednesday.)

“When the developer does the plan, it’s in their interest to make the redevelopment plan as expensive as possible,” since the developer’s fee is based on a percentage of the total, she said. And demolition and new construction is the most expensive approach.  “It’s a terrible conflict of interest,” she said.

“[The Lathop Homes] plan is money-driven,” said Lathrop resident Titus Kirby at the Wednesday press conference.  “What’s driving this plan is the developer and their desire to make money — they figure it’s a chance to build expensive housing on free land.

“This plan is geared to the developer’s interests and not the interests of the residents or our neighbors,” he said.

According to the proposed annual plan, “CHA may submit in FY2014 a demolition/disposition application for all or some of the 925 non-rehabilitated units” at Lathrop Homes.

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