Quick Hit Ashlee Rezin Tuesday January 28th, 2014, 10:48pm

Housing Activists Call For Increased Oversight Of CHA, More Affordable Units (VIDEO)

The Chicago City Council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate approved the 2014-2018 Five-Year Housing Plan on Tuesday, despite activists’ criticisms that the plan fails to ramp up oversight of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and therefore does not guarantee increased affordable housing units across the city. 

Implemented by the Department of Planning and Development (DPD), the housing plan outlines the city’s $1.3 billion investment in the construction, rehabilitation and preservation of more than 41,000 affordable housing units. It was passed by a 8 - 2 vote, with Alds. Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Nick Sposato (36th) voting against it. The plan will be considered by the full Chicago City Council on February 5.

But, according to members of the Chicago Housing Initiative (CHI), the city's plan should apply more pressure on the CHA to ensure the agency fills vacant public housing units, shrinks the housing wait list, which currently sits at more than 42,000 people, and replaces demolished public housing units.

“To alderman we say, do not rubber-stamp this plan," said Miguel Suarez, a board member with the CHI, who spoke at a press conference before the committee meeting. "We urge the city council to establish new policies moving forward, governing the use of city housing funds, to ensure that we preserve what we have ... If the city is going to invest in public housing redevelopment, the city should establish conditions and standards on how that investment is used."

Activists proposed an amendment to the Five-Year Housing Plan that would allow the city's Department of Planning and Development to require that the CHA provide a plan for producing replacement housing prior to entering into any development agreements for public land sales or land swaps, as a condition for receiving public dollars. Also, activists demand that, going forward, developers and the CHA be required to replace any demolished public housing units on a “one-to-one” basis.

Click through for more from the housing activists who spoke at the press conference before Tuesday’s committee meeting.

However, Andrew Mooney, commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development, argues that although the department provides funding to, and works closely with the CHA, how the housing agency manages its wait list and distributes vouchers, is not a DPD matter.

“We are not the Chicago Housing Authority. We do not have authority with respect to the authority and they do not report to us,” Mooney said. “The city of Chicago does work with the CHA closely on their developments, we do provide funding for their program, we provide tax credits, we provide home loans and land and some other resources, and that’s our primary interaction with the authority.”

Since 2004, the CHA has not leased some 13,000 funded vouchers, meanwhile, 1,900 habitable CHA units currently sit vacant, according to the Chicago Housing Initiative.

The agency is also sitting on operating reserves that reached $315 million at the end of 2012, an analysis from the group concluded.

Despite those reserves and vacant units, the city experienced a net loss of 14,389 affordable apartments between 1999 to 2013. A housing unit is priced to accomodate families making up to 80 percent of the area median income (AMI), or $58,900 for a family of four, according to the Chicago Housing Initiative.

“I don’t buy into this issue that we don’t have control over the CHA,” said Waguespack. “The mayor appoints the CEO … I don’t see how DPD doesn’t have control over the CHA and what they do, regardless of the fact that they’re set up by the state and they get federal funding. My position is that the mayor is sitting there appointing that person, so he should be listening to the mayor and the mayor should be listening to the neighborhood organizations.”

Activists also demanded that the Department of Planning and Development invest in the construction of public housing units on vacant land where public housing once stood but no replacement units have been built.

“We want equity across the city … We want more affordable housing,” said Waguespack. “So I think we should have more power in terms of the CHA, we approve of the CEO, we appoint that person and I think, on behalf of my fellow councilmembers, we do need more control over what the CHA does.”

From 2000 to 2013, the CHA demolished 11 public housing developments, roughly 18,000 units, under the more than $1 billion Plan for Transformation. The controversial plan set out to replace low-income, high-rise housing projects with mixed-income communities.

But many housing activists claim they are still waiting for the construction of replacement housing. The Harold Ickes Homes, which housed more than 1,000 families at one point and was demolished in 2010, has not been replaced by any public housing units as of yet.

"They wiped us off the map," said Lori Williams, a resident of the Harold Ickes Homes for more than 40 years, who was forced to relocate and now lives in the Dearborn Homes. "I just want to go home, back to my neighborhood that I know and love."

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