Back in 2000, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development took a gamble on Chicago. The federal agency agreed to deregulate the Chicago Housing Authority in exchange for then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s commitment to tear down thousands of substandard and poorly managed public housing units and replace 25,000 of them within a decade.
The plan began swiftly and thousands of units were quickly razed. Each year since, the CHA has set goals for replacing units. While rebuilding has been slow-going, every year HUD has cut the CHA checks, which reach well into the millions, as if all of the units are standing and occupied.
A few months back, I was sitting in a CHA board meeting where an official touted that the agency was on track to replace 845 units by the end of this year. I was curious to know where those units are located. One month and 15 emails later, I found out that the CHA hasn’t exactly made the sort of progress the public was led to believe.
Well over half, or 500, of the units that were projected for this year don’t exist. And there is no plan to make up for them, an agency spokesman confirmed.
What happened? The reason may surprise you.
A real estate slump has stymied developers from building new housing for years now. So, CHA officials decided to try something new. They asked private landlords to submit proposals for creating rentals. In exchange they’d qualify for guaranteed multi-year subsidies.
The catch was that the apartments had to be located in racially diverse neighborhoods with low levels of poverty. The only landlords that bit, according to a CHA statement, had “properties located in limited areas with high concentrations of poverty.”
We’re still waiting to see who applied and was rejected. Meanwhile, the CHA has downgraded its goal and hopes to add 380 similar rental units next year.
If the CHA pulls it off, that would bring the number of replacement units to 21,956, or 88 percent of the original goal set in 2000. That’s 132 units short of last year’s goal.
It remains to be seen if the CHA will get more interest this year in its offer to private landlords. In a strong rental market, housing experts I’ve spoken with say it could be tough to find landlords who think they’ll do better financially by renting exclusively to low-income tenants. There’s a lot riding on the agency’s success. The private apartments account for 72 percent of the new units slated for this year.
Will the housing agency be able to make its goals? I know that about 40,000 families on CHA's waiting list certainly hope it does.
Photo by Strannik45