Chicago Affordable Housing Conversion Plan Fails CHA Target: ProPublica – Illinois News

When the plan was launched, CHA had approximately 29,000 family housing units. The plan promised to replace or rehabilitate 15,000 of them.

But even when project-based voucher units are included, the CHA now has about 13,000 units for families – 2,000 fewer than planned. That means CHA has lost 16,000 homes for families over the past 22 years.

Adella Bass, a mother of three who has been on the agency’s waiting list for 13 years, sees the CHA falling short.

“Everyone deserves a place to live — a clean place to live, a decent place to live,” Bass said. But housing has gotten so expensive that many families are concluding that “there’s just no hope of housing in Chicago.”

Bass works as a housekeeper for her mother while she works on her college degree. A few years ago, after struggling to pay bills, she moved to a North Side homeless shelter with her children and her boyfriend, now her husband.

Eventually they were able to find a subsidized apartment on the south side, for which she is grateful. But she said it was infested with mice and mold and she would like something better. Bass is still hoping CHA will call, and her long-term goal is to enroll in a homeownership program.

Bass noted that the CHA sits on vacant land and unoccupied homes — more than 1,200 since earlier this year, records show. “All of their steps, protocols, procedures, just their way of doing things needs to be totally and completely changed,” she said.

The transformation plan was not intended to replace all of the city’s public housing.

At its peak, the CHA had more than 42,000 units. But in 1995, HUD took direct control of the CHA, citing mismanagement. The agency then began vacating and demolishing thousands of their homes, leaving nearly 39,000 homes across the city. About a third of these units were vacant or occupied by people without a lease, which would have a significant impact on the transformation plan.

For example, in the mid-1990’s, the Robert Taylor Homes comprised more than 4,400 units spanning 2 miles on the South Side. By 1999, development had dropped to 3,800 units, of which only 1,600 were occupied by tenants.

Theresa Boler lived in the Taylor Homes in the late 1990s and recalled that the CHA accelerated the pace of evictions. “They sent people out for some reason,” she said.

When word got out that CHA was planning to demolish the high-rises, many local residents were scared and angry. “They had never lived outside of the projects,” she said. “They really had no place to go.”

In 1999, HUD agreed to return control of the CHA to a board and leaders selected by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. As part of the agreement, federal and local officials worked together on new goals for the agency. Decades of underfunding and poor maintenance had left many of the CHA’s buildings so dilapidated that they would cost billions of dollars to repair. The transformation plan outlined how CHA would dismantle most of its aging developments and replace them with mixed-income communities.

The plan’s target of 25,000 units was based on the number rented to tenants at the end of 1999, after the agency had already vacated thousands of apartments.

The plan acknowledged that thousands of family units would be lost in the transition. “There is no alternative,” the plan says.

CHA has had some achievements over the past two decades. The agency has used project-based vouchers and other partnerships to provide nearly 1,800 homes for people with disabilities, veterans and others struggling with homelessness or mental illness. Many of these residents live in the units with their families, the agency says. The CHA has also expanded its offering for seniors.

The CHA said it is serving more households overall than it was 20 years ago, largely through the expanded use of vouchers to subsidize rent in private homes. But rents continue to rise and the city is struggling with a lack of affordable housing. In addition to the social housing list, 35,000 people are waiting for a voucher. The number would be even higher if the CHA hadn’t closed the list.

Boler now resides in the Lincoln Perry Annex, a CHA senior residence. She is also a member of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, a neighborhood group that has pushed the CHA to build more replacement housing. She said the need was greater than ever.

“We’re not stopping,” she said. “You can’t just take things away from us.”

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December 16, 2022 at 10:19PM

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