PI Original Angela Caputo Monday January 25th, 2010, 10:47am

Why Is Leon Finney Jr. Setting Public Policy?

Leon Finney Jr., president of the Woodlawn Organization, has a long and less-than-stellar record managing low-income housing on Chicago's South Side. But that hasn't affected his clout at City Hall. Not only has Mayor Daley reappointed him to the Plan Commission time and again, he has also directed millions of taxpayer dollars into Finney's organization.

Meet Leon Finney Jr.: He's a reverend, Chicago Plan Commission official, president of the Woodlawn Organization ... and a slumlord.

That's how residents living in sub-standard housing managed by the Woodlawn Redevelopment Corporation (WRC) described him at a City Hall press conference last Thursday. (Finney is also president of the WRC, which is affiliated with the Woodlawn Organization.) Among them was LaTasha Edwards, president of the tenants association, who went straight to the fifth floor to ask Chicago Mayor Richard Daley why he keeps reappointing (PDF) Finney to the Plan Commission -- thereby allowing him to decide development policy -- when the city knows some WRC buildings are infested with rodents and suffer from major structural problems.

“You guys don’t know how hard it is to live the way we are living," Edwards said of conditions at her apartment complex on South Kimbark Avenue in the Woodlawn neighborhood.  " I have four kids. I’m up all night long making sure that nothing crawls on my kids." Watch her remarks:

Not surprisingly, the mayor's office didn't have anything to say on the matter. After all, Finney is a stalwart ally to the mayor. And when push comes to shove, he's shown that whether it's the fight over the Chicago Children's Museum or the big box living wage ordinance, he'll do what it takes to support Daley's agenda. More from the Reader's Mick Dumke:

The Trib reports that among those in attendance at the epic Plan Commission meeting Thursday were Children’s Museum "proponents" bused in by the Woodlawn Organization, which is led by plan commission member Leon Finney Jr.

You and I and every other taxpayer in the state helped finance the organizational efforts and transportation costs needed to get the Woodlawn cheerleaders downtown.

Here’s how: the Woodlawn Organization is a tax-exempt, 501c3 nonprofit organization, and according to its most recent filings with the IRS, the vast majority--more than 80 percent--of its annual revenues come from government grants, most of it federal money handed out by the state and city.

Indeed, Mayor Daley has proven time and again that he's got Finney's back. By our count, the Woodlawn Organization has snagged $9.4 million worth of grant money from the city of Chicago since 2000 alone. Moreover, the organization's affiliate, the Woodlawn Community Development Association, pulled in another $14.9 million in Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) management grants since 2005. Finney, by the way, is a former CHA executive.

Seems rather fishy to us that the city would hand over that kind of money to a group that it has taken to court 19 times since 2008. (Check out the Cook County Circuit Court records for yourself here.) Among those on the docket are three cases involving building code violations at the very Woodlawn buildings where Edwards lives.

With that record, it's no wonder why Finney dodged Thursday's Plan Commission meeting. Instead, he left it to an aide to defend the sorry state of Edwards' South Side building. "Since we’re a non-profit and didn’t have the money to do the renovation," Gina Wright tells the Sun-Times, "Woodlawn Redevelopment Corporation entered into a contract to sell the properties on Dec. 15, 2009." Turns out that Edward's building isn't the only development Finney's organization is struggling to maintain. Crain's reports that the Woodlawn Community Development Association has missed payments on a subsidized housing complex over in the Roseland neighborhood. And residents there are living is similar, sub-standard conditions as a result.

While the sale of the Woodlawn complex is pending, Edwards will have to suffer through more sleepless nights. "It’s not right for us to live like we’re living," she said, "and he’s living in luxury."

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