CHA Chiefs Come and Go as Plan Stalls



New CHA CEO Michael Merchant at a Nov. 19 CHA Board meeting in the ABLA Homes public housing development. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

Michael Merchant, previously the city’s buildings commissioner, recently became the fifth CHA CEO since the inception of the Plan for Transformation, a multi-billion dollar effort to overhaul and redevelop family and senior public housing stock into mixed-income communities that began in 2000 and is now projected to conclude in 2015.

Merchant told RJ after the Nov. 19 CHA Board meeting at the Fosco Park Field house in the ABLA public housing complex that he was confident he would complete the Plan during his tenure.

“I have every intention of being here to finish out the Plan,” Merchant said. “With respect to the fact that there has been turnover in this position, there’s still consistency within the staff, consistency with what the mission is, and what the goal is. Our goal is to make sure that we have vibrant communities and safe and affordable housing. So, I’m here to push full forward.”

The Plan

In January 2000, the CHA, the city of Chicago and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development signed a 10-year “Moving to Work” agreement to tear down and rehab their traditional family, scattered sites and senior public housing stock. The family developments in high-rises as well as low-rises would be demolished and replaced with mixed-income communities that include public and private rental units as well as for-sale housing.

Residents were then uprooted and promised a right to return to replacement public housing under a Residents’ Relocation Rights agreement but construction of the mixed-income housing has stalled while relocated tenants continue to wait.


Phillip Jackson

Phillip Jackson, now the founding executive director of the Black Star Project, became the first of the five CHA chiefs who have overseen the Plan so far.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley selected Jackson to run CHA in May 1999. During his one-year tenure, the 270-member CHA police force was dismantled and its duties were shifted over to the Chicago Police Department. Resident services provided directly by CHA were stopped and transitioned over to private service providers. Departments within CHA were shut down and hundreds of CHA employees were laid off (including the staff of Residents’ Journal, which spun off as an independent not-for-profit organization).

After a turbulent year, Jackson resigned, telling RJ that he would “go and do things I love.”


Terry Peterson

Terry Peterson, a former alderman of the 17th Ward and current Chicago Transit Authority chairman, replaced Jackson in June 2000. Peterson was criticized by resident leaders, their advocates and CHA’s independent monitor for relocating former residents into other impoverished areas with high crime rates. An RJ investigation, “Deadly Moves,” confirmed that Peterson’s policies often were placing residents in risky situations.

A second RJ investigation found that dozens of CHA contractors gave donations to Peterson’s former political organization despite the fact that the 17th Ward has very few public housing units.


Links to “Deadly Moves” and Peterson’s “Questionable Connections” here:


Sharon Gist-Gilliam

Sharon Gist Gilliam, formerly chairman of the CHA Board, became interim CHA chief when Peterson stepped down in 2006. She later resigned a year later in November 2007.


Lewis Jordan

In January 2008, the CHA Board hired Lewis Jordan, formerly executive director of the Housing Authority of Cook County and the Rockford Housing Authority. Jordan attempted to install policies that drug tested all CHA tenants and purge the waiting list for replacement housing. His three-year tenure came to an abrupt end in June 2011 when he felt the heat from Mayor Rahm Emanuel about his and others use of their CHA-issued credit card spending practices which were exposed by media outlets and questioned by the federal government. CHA Board member Carlos Ponce was interim CEO after Jordan’s resignation in June 2011.


A link to RJ’s article about Jordan’s proposed drug testing policy: )


A link to RJ’s article about tracking relocated public housing tenants:


A link to RJ’s article on Jordan’s resignation:


Charles Woodyard

Charles Woodyard, former CEO of the Charlotte Housing Authority, was appointed CHA chief by Emanuel in September 2011 to replace Jordan.

Woodyard called it quits in late October this year after serving only two years.

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