Councilmembers and residents criticize Chicago Housing Authority leader over the state of the city’s public housing

CHICAGO — Councilmembers and residents of the Chicago Housing Authority stormed the agency when their top leader made a rare appearance before City Council Tuesday.

Tracey Scott, executive director of the CHA, was barraged with complaints about poor construction conditions, questions about the agency’s deal to lease land to the Chicago Fire football team and concerns about her vacant units amid the people crisis. homeless in the city.

“I appreciate you taking over CHA,” Ald. Maria Hadden (49), told Scott. “Because CHA is a monster. It’s a monster.

Dozens of seniors who live at Albany Terrace Apartments in South Lawndale attended the rally to denounce the slum conditions in their building, saying pipes burst during a cold snap in December. Residents were left in unsafe conditions, they said, with some using gas stoves to keep warm.

Resident Charles Odum said elevators were constantly failing, bedbugs were in the building, and there was no access to regularly working washers and dryers.

“We told them our disapproval,” Odum said of the meeting.

Scott noted the concerns, saying the agency had received significant funding to redevelop the property starting next month.

But council members took the opportunity Tuesday to pepper the agency and its leadership with broader questions and scathing comments on everything from its coupon registration process to complaints about building management.

A municipal agency overseen by a mayor-appointed board, the CHA owns about 20,000 apartments throughout the city. It also provides vouchers to thousands of families to help them rent privately owned units. The agency receives most of its funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The agency has recently come under fire for its tepid response to the city’s growing population of homeless residents and a deal it made with the Chicago Fire to lease a large tract of land on the Near West Side that was originally promised for affordable public use. accommodation. The team plans to build a practice facility on the site.

“How is it possible that with tens of thousands of homeless people living in parks, shelters and couchsurfing, the city is prepared to lease public housing land to a football team?” said resident Anthony Perkins.

The councilors also insisted on those issues on Tuesday.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25), whose district includes part of the former ABLA Homes development where the soccer facility is planned, requested a full financial analysis of the housing authority’s lease with the soccer team.

“There are some serious concerns,” Sigcho-López said. “My biggest concern is the gentrification of the ABLA housing area…. What we have seen, time and time again, are deals that have not included the community.”

Scott said the deal with Fire had not been finalized, but the team had agreed to lease the land from ABLA for $1 million a year for 40 years. She said some of the proceeds would go towards rehabbing the Jane Addams Homes, which are part of ABLA, and the Fire had agreed to provide a new basketball court, green space and internships and sports management job opportunities.

“We can deliver on our housing commitment in that area, also with soccer development,” Scott said.

But some councilors were unconvinced and continued to question the development during the three-hour hearing.

“I find it counterintuitive that CHA is moving forward to achieve its goal of creating housing for the people it displaced and helping meet affordable housing needs by selling some of its land,” Hadden said.

The housing authority also faced criticism for its “Plan for Transformation,” a massive citywide redevelopment effort launched in 2000. Under the plan, the CHA displaced thousands of residents and tore down tens of thousands of units, with the promise to replace them with mixed-income housing. communities

But after more than two decades, the CHA has still not followed through on its promises to rebuild many of the sites.

“Can we publicly say that the transformation plan failed? It is obvious that he did it”, Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20) said Tuesday.

Many councilmembers questioned what the housing authority’s plan was for the roughly 2,000 vacant units it had citywide, particularly as the city’s homeless population rises to more than 60,000 and waiting lists continue to grow. Sigcho-Lopez asked why the housing authority has approximately $500 million in cash, while Ald. James Cappelman (46th), said many buildings in his district don’t even have locks.

“It’s frustrating. I’m seeing this communication failure,” Cappleman said.

Scott responded by saying that of the 2,000 vacant units, about 1,000 were in the process of being remodeled. She said the agency needs to have cash on hand to develop projects, and that CHA properties were currently at 90 percent occupancy.

Scott also blamed many of the agency’s shortcomings on Congress’ failure to expand low-income tax credits in its most recent budget, which he said were essential to affordable housing development.

“We are committed to mixed-income community development,” Scott said. “The fact is that the money is not there to make it happen overnight.”

But the councilman also followed up on concerns raised by tenants in the public comment section of the meeting, expressing his exasperation with the housing authority’s waiting list, the homeownership program and the voucher system, the lack of ADA access in buildings and constant turnover of building managers.

“The homeownership program, the building managers, they suck,” Taylor said. “And the CHA sucks at not letting people know [home ownership] it’s a choice We know that home ownership leads to generational wealth. Are you saying black and brown people shouldn’t have it? I know that’s not what you’re saying. But it’s what the system has told us… it’s not about ‘we don’t have the answers’. This is a matter of ‘we just don’t listen’”.

Councilman Roberto Maldonado (26) sharply questioned Scott about the city’s complicated process for providing residents with rental subsidy vouchers. He called for a more centralized registration system that would inform potential renters about available public housing in their neighborhoods.

“I am very, very dissatisfied with [the current] approach,” said Maldonado. “Navigating any website at CHA is not easy. And for the average prospective renter, it’s even more difficult.”

Councilman Scott Waguespack (32nd) also criticized the housing authority’s management of the Lathrop Homes development in Lakeview, accusing the agency of neglecting the buildings to better incentivize their demolition.

“Lathrop has languished for far too long,” Waguespack said. “The people who live there are upset… there is an absolutely lousy approach to keeping those buildings on the southern part of the site.”

“He’s being too nice,” Ald added. Harry Osterman (48th), who chairs the city’s housing and real estate committee. Lathrop’s unfinished redevelopment “sends a message to the community directly there, and to other communities, that care is being taken to add affordable housing.”

Scott said the housing authority planned to make more progress on Lathrop in 2023.

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