H.elp U.s D.evelop Common Sense

If you didn’t catch the significance of the title, here’s a hint.  It’s H.U.D. This idea struck me as I was watching an episode of Treme and noticed the graffiti on a wall for FEMA, “Fix Everything My Ass”. This blog is also inspired by dealing with HUD mentality concerning our apartment in a senior complex.  The last straw that prompted me to blog (and stop putting it off because I am so damned busy) was an article in Crain’s Chicago Business.  I have to plug Every Block here http://chicago.everyblock.com/.  It’s a great source of info on what’s up in your city and tipped me to the Crain article.  On to the points….

Starting with the Crain article: Real estate collapse cripples CHA plan to mix homeowners, renters.

The bubble burst is continuing its adverse effects and the CHA 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 plan for transformation is taking it in the boot.  In short the plan was to redevelop the Chicago housing market by taking down the dreaded projects and replacing the housing with options for low income, moderate income and market rate, great idea in concept.  Market rate owners would bring stability to the area because of vested interest and that would spur economic development. If you are at all interested in the sad truth behind the plans for the nine development companies to put up the for market housing, you can read the article here CHA1/3 Busted.  Some of the developers did produce market rate housing; others didn’t. Basically, they couldn’t get sales prices to make the deals viable.  I am not being sarcastic. I feel sorry for developers.  It’s not about the millions of dollars they might lose.  It’s about the bureaucratic, endless, circle of red tape that will be needed to even think about fixing this mess.

Developers postulate they could turn the planned sale units to rental units.  I don’t think that will work.  Just look at the Rosenwald development as an example of what communities think of adding more affordable rental units to their neighborhood.  To put it mildly Bronzeville neighbors of the Rosenwald are up in arms.  They want many fewer low and moderate income units but additional market rate. Problem for the developers is simple.  They are relying on the subsidies for providing low income units to renovate the building. Here in lies the first circle of no end.

Everyone realizes that condos are out, for the moment. How do you make market rate housing attractive in a complex geared toward low and moderate?  Let’s face it most people are scared to death of the term “low income”.  Somehow poverty and crime are irrevocably linked in the human conscious.  Funny thing is most people don’t link corporate greed and crime as easily.  You better believe there is more crime there than on the corner.  Take that back, some of the corner crime is definitely linked to corporate profits.  I digress.

Anyway I was meeting with a friend who is on the task force for the Rosenwald project, a project I have been following and blogging about (Vote no RIP), she asked me for some thoughts on making the project more viable, attractive, etc.  One of my suggestions was to make the complex more sustainable by adding geothermal heating and cooling, solar thermal and solar voltaic. Yep it will cost more but grants and rebates are available and savvy market rate renters will love the sexiness of living in a LEED certified building not to mention having real savings on energy costs. The management company whoever that ends up to be will have lower operating costs.  I even suggested working with the task force to research funding; set up a workforce development project and whatever else I might contribute. My next suggestion was really close to home.  Make more of the units better suited for senior couples.  Seniors are not marrying as quickly as years past but are co-habiting for life at a growing rate.  We like living together and we live longer.

Now I’m a senior and part of a dynamic duo that happened to have chosen the matrimony route but space and storage requirements don’t change whether the duo is hitched or not.  So my suggestion was make more two bedroom units available.  Some of us still need home office space.  In lieu of an extra bedroom, please, please put in extra closet space.  We both wear cloths!

We’ve looked at some senior moderate and low income units around the city starting with a wonderful building in the South Loop to units in Bronzeville.  As my grandmother used to say, you can’t cuss a cat without getting fur in your mouth.  Some of the units have teeny, half size stoves.  I still cook gourmet meals.  My husband would go on a revolt if all I could manage in the kitchen is a half of a brandy braised turkey.  Forget even a half.  I can’t get the pan in the oven!

This brings me to our current housing situation and H.U.D. About two years ago we took a position as the health and wellness coordinators for a new senior complex.  As part of compensation we had a two bedroom unit that was originally intended for the building engineer.  Problem was he didn’t want to live there.  In fact no other staff wanted the apartment.  This was perfect for us.  I have a background in medicine; my husband in psychology and we both are into healthy lifestyle choices.  What a great fit!  Besides I volunteered to do social media for the complex.  This was definitely one hand washing the other.

We’ve been working on an urban agriculture project in Bronzeville for twelve years with NO PAY! This apartment and position was heaven sent or so we thought until HUD showed up for inspection (sound effects, heavy doom inspiring music).  H.U.D. could care less about seniors being healthy.  HUD doesn’t sponsor any kind of health and wellness activity.  Ok, since our position was funded by a grant that was no longer available, we were working just for the apartment and that was fine with us.  Not with HUD.  Even though we are both seniors and eligible for senior housing we must pay market rate rent to continue to occupy the apartment or move to a unit that is designated for a senior rent.  Trouble is first they don’t have one available and second even if there were a unit available they are all one bedroom with very little closet space.  Are there senior couples in the building?  A few. One couple splits their time between Chicago, New Orleans and Dallas.  They are rarely here.  However, this is not really the point.

HUD demands either market rate or an empty apartment.  Tell me what landlord in their right mind would want an empty apartment instead of receiving rent.  HUD can’t write it off of their taxes as a loss.  The not for profit that runs the building has tried everything they could to help HUD employ common sense. But as my grandmother used to say Common Sense just ain’t that common.

Of Course: HUD Awards $70 Million in Grants to Teach Grant Recipients How to Spend Grant Money More Wisely

But this is a story for another time.



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