CHA Announces First Clean Audit

by Earl Battles 

In an Oct. 30, 1997, press release, the Chicago Housing Authority announced that they had received a financial clean bill of health from an outside auditor. This was CHA’s first clean financial audit in over 10 years.

Being a resident myself, I wondered how will this clean audit affect me or the other tenants of CHA.

I haven’t been a resident for the past 10 years but that wasn’t necessary for me to see where CHA was going. I’ve only been a resident for almost five years and wondered in that short time what was happening to the quality of life in CHA. I’ve seen serious neglect of CHA buildings, a lack of maintenance services and a decreasing level of social services.

Mind you that I’m not turning this into a complaint about CHA services to the residents. But the fact that there had not been a clean audit for more than 10 years means that CHA didn’t track where money or services were going under its previous administrations.

I don’t mean to attack Vince Lane, who headed CHA before this current administration. But it makes one wonder: Did slipshod business practices begin or continue during Lane’s administration?

The federal government took over the CHA in May 1995 and the agency has made an effort to find where it has been failing. In the press release about the clean audit, previous CHA Chairman Edwin Eisendrath stated, “Now, for the first time, the public knows where the CHA gets and spends its money and can engage in a discussion about how to improve the quality of public housing with real data about the resources available to do the job.”

But the press release didn’t really answer my question of how this clean audit will help residents. So I interviewed Carmen Browne, acting deputy executive director of finance and administration.

Browne said the audit explains how money for programs like Hope VI is being spent and how CHA keeps track of where it is going. Browne said the real results of the clean audit will be seen in CHA’s redevelopment and relocation activities.

With this successful audit, housing makes the claim that there is progress in improving public housing and that residents are brought back into “the social fabric of surrounding communities,” according to the release. This makes me raise several questions: Does housing believe that its poor and disenfranchised residents aren’t already part of the surrounding communities? Is not being part of the “social fabric” in some way caused by CHA’s misappropriation of funds?

Since 1995, CHA says it has spent $50 million on redevelopment, including the demolition of 1,190 obsolete units of public housing, the rehab of 2,178 units and the construction of 455 new units. Browne said another $25 million for redevelopment recently was allocated by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo. CHA says 3,000 CHA residents have made the change from welfare to work, and nearly half of the CHA housing stock is now privately managed.

These sums and efforts may look impressive on paper. But for residents, those dollars are just a tiny portion of what we need to truly redevelop our communities. To really be re-woven into the ‘social fabric,’ we need more than new buildings. We need effective programs that move residents from welfare to work, including training efforts, child care and counseling. And those programs will cost a lot of money, more money than can be found in a clean audit.

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