CITY HALL — A council committee approved a new five-year housing plan Tuesday, over complaints that it doesn't require enough oversight of the Chicago Housing Authority.
The plan, "Bouncing Back: Chicago's Five-Year Housing Plan for 2014-2018," was meant to be "more realistic" than previous five-year plans, according to Lawrence Grisham, deputy commissioner of the Bureau of Housing. It aimed to "do more with less," maintaining 41,000 units of affordable housing even as the city faced an overall funding cut for the program from $1.6 billion for the last five years to an estimated $1.3 billion for the next five years, due mostly to federal reductions.
Yet the plan came under attack for the continued lack of oversight over the CHA, which Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) charged had "perverted the process." The CHA was also criticized for sitting on $600 million in unspent reserves.
"We don't have any outright authority over them," Waguespack said. "We do need more control over what the CHA does."
Waguespack's complaints echoed criticism from the Chicago Housing Initiative, an umbrella group of community and housing organizations, which held a news conference before Tuesday's meeting of the Housing Committee.
"Do not rubber-stamp this plan," said Miguel Suarez, a 20-year Lathrop Homes resident and an initiative board member. He called for "stronger standards and conditions for CHA funding" and a 1-to-1 policy of replacing all demolished public housing with new public housing.
The Housing Initiative charged that CHA had spent $650 million over the last five years to demolish 18,650 public-housing units, many of them in high-rises, but had built only 4,260 to replace them, a net loss of more than 14,000 affordable homes.
"We are not the Chicago Housing Authority," said Andrew Mooney, commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development, which presented the new plan. "They do not report to us."
Mooney also defended new CHA Chief Executive Officer Michael Merchant as "accessible" and someone he can work with.
"CHA's a separate entity," added Ald. Ray Suarez (31st), chairman of the Housing Committee.
"I don't buy into this idea that we don't have any control over the CHA," Waguespack responded. "The mayor appoints the CEO" and the CHA board.
"They're a part of this plan," Waguespack added. "If they are sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars, I'd like to know how they'll spend it."
"We haven't kept up with the 1-to-1 commitment we have," said Ald. John Arena (45th).
Waguespack wanted to present an amendment to the plan calling on the CHA to report to the Department of Planning and Development and to replace all demolished public housing on a 1-to-1 basis, but said Suarez ruled against presenting that measure at Tuesday's committee meeting. Waguespack said he'll be offering an ordinance amendment on those proposals ahead of the March City Council meeting.
The plan cleared committee with only Waguespack and Ald. Nick Sposato (36th) opposed, and heads for council approval next month.
The plan calls for $4 million in Tax Increment Finance funds to help bolster affordable housing at risk in foreclosures and the like. Ald. William Burns (4th) asked that be increased to $7 million, "so we're not just moving the runners around the bases, but trying to swing for the fences a little bit."
Mooney called the $7 million figure "a good aspirational goal."
Ald. James Cappleman (46th) called for "more affordable housing in areas where there's less poverty," citing the concentration of public housing in his Uptown area.
"I knew we were in trouble when the word 'affordable' was deleted from the title," said Diane Limas of the Albany Park Neighborhood Council during public comment on the report. Limas said an affordable-housing plan had to emphasize not just the creation of new housing, but the retention of existing affordable housing in gentrifying areas and areas hit hard by foreclosures.