Charles Woodyard is the new CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority

Charles Woodyard is the new CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority

Charles Woodyard, the new chief executive officer of the Chicago Housing Authority, will take the reigns of the agency at a tumultuous moment in its history.

Perhaps most significantly, the housing authority’s Plan for Transformation is behind schedule, leaving empty lots scattered around redevelopment sites instead of new units in mixed-income communities.

Launched in 1999, the plan seeks to build public housing units, affordable and market-rate rentals and for-sale housing on the sites that once hosted traditional high-rises and other CHA residential structures.

New construction–and branding–has occurred at many public housing locations: Rockwell Gardens is now called West End; Oakwood Shores is going up near where the Madden, Darrow and Wells Homes once stood; and Park Boulevard is rising on the old Stateway Gardens land. But the real estate market crash has hit the developers CHA hired to revamp those sites hard, bringing the redevelopment process to a crawl in many places.

At Roosevelt Square, for example, the developer Related Midwest ultimately plans to build 2,400 units to replace the ABLA Homes, near the University of Illinois at Chicago. Less than 600 are now online.

Here’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel responding to question about how the plan will move forward at a press conference announcing Woodyard’s appointment yesterday:

Creating mixed-income communities, meanwhile, in the new units developers have built hasn’t always been a smooth process.

The housing agency faces controversy on a number of other fronts too.

Advocates claim CHA is leaving thousands of units empty even while tens of thousands of people have joined the authority’s waiting list; CHA says those units are unfit to live in. Residents are worried about the redevelopment of places like the Lathrop Homes and the Cabrini-Green row houses. The last CHA CEO left under a cloud after questions about his use of agency credit cards arose.

And there’s frustration with how CHA uses the “one strike” rule. The Chicago Reporter’s Angela Caputo wrote earlier this month in her investigation “One and Done” that residents have lost their units under one strike even when the crimes they were alleged to commit resulted in not-guilty verdicts, were thrown out of court or were never prosecuted; for nonviolent offenses; and in instances when their children or acquaintances committed a crime on CHA property. The housing agency has defended its practices.

Here’s how Woodyard, who comes to CHA from the Charlotte Housing Authority, introduced himself yesterday:

Woodyard and Emanuel held their press conference in Parkside, the development meant to replace Cabrini-Green. Some residents on hand to watch the announcement were skeptical of the appointment.

“It seems more like a real estate deal going on than the real issues that revolved around public housing. This don’t seem like nothing–some individual selected without accurate knowledge about life in public housing,” said Marvin Edwards, a longtime Cabrin-Green community leader. “He don’t sound like he was appointed to deal with the issues of public housing,” like crime, jobs and finding ways that public housing residents can become self-sufficient.

Phillip Gregory, who has lived in now-demolished Cabrini buildings before taking a unit in Parkside, said that Woodyard must listen to residents and account for their perspectives.

“He needs to speak more with those who have been here for numerous years and can actually assist him in [developing] a system where they can come down and reconcile how people’s backgrounds, how people’s lifestyles affect this area over here,” Gregory said.

Neither Emanuel nor Woodyard offered much in the ways of specifics of the future of the Plan for Transformation this morning, though the mayor did say that the MacArthur Foundation would host a meeting of officials from CHA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development about “stage two” of the effort.

© Community Renewal Society 2011

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