CHA residents call on city to end contracts with Leon Finney Jr.

When Chicago’s Department of Buildings added Leon Finney Jr. to a short list of scofflaw landlords who are barred from doing business with the city in 2011 because he had ignored dangerous code violations in some of his rental buildings, it might have seemed like the politically connected pastor and developer from Woodlawn would be cut off from managing subsidized housing for good.

Well, not exactly.

Landing on the city’s black list didn’t put a dent in the $8 million worth of property management contracts that Finney’s nonprofit, the Woodlawn Community Development Corporation, had inked with the city’s sister agency, the Chicago Housing Authority.

On Wednesday morning, a group of senior citizens who live in some of those CHA buildings managed by WCDC met outside of the housing authority’s downtown headquarters to call on officials to follow the city’s lead and pull Finney’s contracts because of inept management.

Alphonso Jones, a 67-year-old retired community college instructor, who lives in the Judge Slater Apartments near 43rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, said his building is infested with rodents and roaches. Some units have peeling paint, loose cabinetry and mold. His biggest gripe, though, is that “you’ve got to constantly go to management to beg about the conditions of your apartment.” Here's a glimpse of the demonstration where he spoke:

How bad are the conditions in the building? Federal inspection scores suggest that they’re pretty good.

The Reporter reviewed data compiled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and found that the building passed with flying colors--earning 80 out of 100 points--in 2010, the most recent scores available. That’s a dramatic improvement compared with a decade earlier when HUD gave the building a failing score of 23 points.

As far as Jones is concerned, the recent scores don’t tell the whole story. While some renovations have been made, the repairs were shoddy, he said. There’s one way the city and the CHA could clear the air, he said. “We’re calling on the city to send out inspectors to see for themselves.”

This isn’t the first time that Finney, or the Woodlawn Community Development Corporation, has been accused of providing shoddy housing on the public’s dime. Similar allegations have flown since the 1980s. Last year, the Reporter dug into the agency’s finances as HUD was poised to take some of the most troubled buildings the organization owned away after they failed too many inspections. Here’s an excerpt from our investigation:

The condition of [WCDC managed] buildings raises questions about how the nonprofit—along with its sister agency, The Woodlawn Organization, better known as TWO—manages the steady stream of anti-poverty money it collects each year. Independent auditors found that their ledgers continue to come up short, and meeting basic expenses, including payroll and building maintenance, has been an ongoing challenge.

Despite those financial problems, few cutbacks have been made on expenses that benefit Finney, who has cashed in on lucrative vacation payouts, unloaded properties owned by his church and his late father on the nonprofits, and charged them a premium for consulting and other services his private companies have provided, The Chicago Reporter found.

In the five months since our investigation was published, public officials piled on Finney. In April, Chicago’s Inspector General attempted to subpoena his bank statements to probe his organizations’ public contracts and development deals. The state followed the city’s lead and pulled contracts worth millions that had been awarded to TWO.

TWO ultimately folded as a result. Its employees were stuck holding the bag, though. The Illinois Department of Labor filed suit on their behalf to recoup wages that were never paid. Last May, employees filed a class-action suit against TWO and WCDC in an attempt to collect more than $50,000 in lost wages. That case is ongoing.

How does all this factor into the CHA’s decision to keep Finney on as a property manager? CHA spokeswoman Wendy Parks said that the nonprofit is working “under a legal contract.” Procurement records indicate that contract is scheduled to expire in October. Parks said that the CHA will soon be soliciting proposals from vendors who want to compete for work managing the contract that Finney has.

The CHA board members who will put that contract to a vote are appointed by the city’s chief executive, Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Whether they’ll take the city, and the state’s lead, and cut the organization off remains to be seen.

For Princella Lee, an organizer with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, a nonprofit that helped the Judge Slater seniors to stage the demonstration Wednesday, the bottom line is this: “Our seniors deserve decent, affordable housing.”

“And currently,” she added, “that’s not happening.”

--James Reddick contributed to this article.

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