Recently, we highlighted a questionable arrangement taking place down at City Hall. Turns out that Chicago officials have not only chosen to overlook a local law that bars problem landlords from doing businesss with the city, they've rewarded one quite handsomely.
So far this year, Leon Finney Jr. who heads up The Woodlawn Organization, Woodlawn Community Development Corporation and sits on the Chicago Plan Commission, has landed nearly $1.3 million in public contracts and grants. Over that same time, the city has taken him to court 15 times for serious building code violations that include rat infestations, sub-standard porches and mold. (Click here to have a look at the court documents for yourself).
Why hasn't Finney been cut off? The hold up, Buildings Department spokesman Bill McAffrey told us, is internal. City staffers are still working out the rules for enforcement. It's been eight months since the measure -- which, mind you, legally took effect immediately -- passed through the City Council. Still, McAffrey has no inkling of when the city will start cracking down on problem landlords.
The bulk of the public money awarded to Finney's organizations -- nearly $1.2 million -- is for workforce development and human service programming. Additional money has also been committed through Chicago's Low-Income Housing Trust Fund, according to the city's most recent housing report. One of Finney's properties was awarded $48,960, according to that report, to subsidize rents at 8222-32 S. Ingleside. That building has been in court this year for code violations that include standing sewage water and mold.
Thomas McNulty, president of the fund, took issue with our account. "[A]ll payments to Woodlawn Community Development Corporation for that property have been suspended," he wrote in a letter to the editor. "No payment of funds has been made by the Low Income Housing Trust Fund for this property since June 2009." Read the whole thing for yourself (click here to enlarge):
We reached out to the trust's director Cary Steinbuck to get the details before publishing our story. She forwarded us to the city's Community Development spokeswoman Molly Sullivan who, in turn, directed us to the housing report. According to that report, Finney's Woodlawn Development Corporation collected $48,960 not only in 2010, but in 2009 as well. We're waiting on clarification from McNulty.
Meanwhile, the letter does highlight an error on our part, which we regret. It turns out that Finney is not affiliated with the building at 6224-26 S. Kimbark Ave. His group owns a handful of buildings on that street. Among them is the one at 6141 S. Kimbark, where, conditions were so deplorable back in January, that tenants staged a press conference at City Hall begging city officials to force Finney to maintain their buildings.
And that brings us back to our initial question: Why does the city continue to do business with a group with such a dismal track record?