Report Criticizes CHA Relocations

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All is apparently not well on the home front for many public housing residents who are undergoing the Chicago Housing Authority’s massive $1.6 billion plan to turn its public housing properties into mixed-income communities.

A recent independent study of the housing plan by a renowned attorney, hired by the public housing agency to do the study, discovered that some residents did not have enough time and/or opportunity to secure units in the private market using Housing Choice Vouchers, while others moved into rehabilitated units within CHA that were “substandard and decrepit.”

Tom Sullivan, a attorney with the law firm Jenner & Block, was contracted by CHA from July 18, 2002 to April 30, 2003 “to ensure monitoring and tracking of the relocation process,” during Phase II of the Plan for Transformation, as per the CHA Resident Relocation Rights Contract. Sullivan found that residents who were relocated in 2002 had not received proper relocation information on where to move by the mobility counselors hired to assist them in their move.

The Service Connector program, CHA’s main effort to provide tenants with social services, also was experiencing problems with connecting residents to services and ensuring that they stay or become lease compliant, employed and integrated into the community during relocation from CHA properties.

Sullivan also found that there was a lack of proper inspections of replacement units being done by CHA personnel by the agency hired to oversee the former Section 8 Program. And residents with outstanding high utility bills were running into trouble securing replacement housing.

Sullivan further reported concerns about residents relocating into other public housing developments whose family members and friends have been harassed by gang members at their relocation site. “We talked to 140 people…. I tried to render a report that was fair but didn’t pull any punches,” Sullivan said in an interview.

Sullivan produced five reports but CHA has refused to release the first four. In his final report, dated Jan. 8, 2003, Sullivan stated that some residents like their rehabbed relocation units. But a number of other residents were moved into other CHA replacement units that were – as one building manager at Stateway Gardens put it – “almost like a horror movie.”

“We have also been told, and have personally observed, that during Phase II, some residents were moved into make-ready units that were decrepit and substandard,” he wrote. The units were supposed to be inspected and approved by the building’s property manager, a member of CHA’s Operations Department, a representative of the general contractor and the construction company manager.

A former CHA resident watches as this Robert Taylor building is being deolished in early January. Photo by Mary C. Johns

And a representative of the LAC was offered an opportunity to make pre-occupancy inspection, Sullivan reported. Sullivan described some of the units as being “inhabited for years, with plumbing and electrical systems in poor, undependable conditions.”
Sullivan wrote that the tight time schedules for building closures and the rigid adherence to those dates led to the neglect.

There were 52 make-ready units prepared at CHA family sites from April 1 to June 30, 2002, compared to 375 units from July 1 to Sept. 30.

Mobility Counseling
The CHA Leaseholder Housing Choice and Relocation Rights Contract states that “Mobility Counseling is available for Leaseholders interested in moving to opportunity areas.” ‘Opportunity areas’ are defined as “census tracts with no more than 23.49 percent of families with incomes below the poverty level and no more than 30 percent African American population.”

But the report states that “no serious effort was made to explain the availability of moves to opportunity areas, or provide counseling” to residents using Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) during relocations which occurred in 2002.

“A persistent criticism of the HCV program in the CHA relocation process is that most of the families have been relocated to highly segregated areas inhabited largely by families whose income is below the poverty level,” Sullivan wrote.

“The result has been that the vertical ghettos from which families are being moved are being replaced with horizontal ghettos, located in well-defined, highly segregated neighborhoods on the west and south sides of Chicago.”

The late start of the relocation process for residents in 2002 was a big problem, according to Sullivan. As a result of his reports, Sullivan said CHA will hire four more counseling agencies to assist in the 2003 relocations. The mobility counselors are now required to identify at least five units in opportunity areas based on each family’s preference. The housing counseling agency must escort the family to at least three of the units.

Additionally, the mobility counselors are prohibited from providing information to relocating residents about housing units in areas such as East Garfield, Englewood, Grand Boulevard, Washington Park, West Englewood and Woodlawn, areas where there is already a high concentration of low-income residents and vouchers.

Service Connector Program
Other concerns by Sullivan included the Service Connector Program, which CHA established in the spring of 2001, “to connect residents to services and ensure that they stay or become lease compliant, employed and integrated into the community during relocations from CHA properties,” according to the report. There was, he said, “a serious shortcoming in this respect.”

The program, which is provided by 4 social service agencies, and administered and monitored by the Chicago Department of Human Services, is required to service residents in 23 CHA developments, with assistance and referrals to outside social service providers.

To summarize the defects of the Service Connector program, Sullivan stated in the report that the program during Phase II was “woefully inadequate” because it was “grossly under funded” which resulted in its being understaffed to handle too many caseloads.

High Utility Bills
Another major concern Sullivan pointed out was the high number of unpaid electric bills several residents had been receiving for years. Residents’ Journal has been following this issue very closely in a series of articles on the topic beginning in the March/April 2002 issue.

Sullivan stated in his report that he and his associates were repeatedly told by almost every LAC president and many others about many residents’ large unpaid, overdue utility bills. He reported “that many families have not been able to resolve these bills, and others have agreed to payment plans with which they are financially unable to comply.

“The utility companies apparently allowed these bills to accumulate over the years. When families were attempting to achieve lease compliance in preparation for relocation, these bills were encountered, and presented a serious impediment,” he stated.
Referring to “The Robert Taylor Homes Relocation Study” produced by Columbia University professor and We The People Media board member Sudhir A. Venkatesh and Residents’ Journal Assistant Editor Beauty Turner, Sullivan pointed out the “serious impediment” in failing to address the utility bills issue.

He described how families during CHA relocations had been declared lease compliant while they possessed unpaid light bills, then given a Housing Choice Voucher to find a unit in the private market, only to lose the housing voucher if they couldn’t establish utility connection.

“I have been told that the CHA Chief Executive Officer, Terry Peterson, has undertaken personally to discuss this matter with executives of the utility companies,” Sullivan stated. “This is obviously a matter of great concern…which ought to be resolved promptly.”

Gangs and Drugs
The Resident Relocation Rights contract with CHA states that residents should be relocated to a “decent, safe and sanitary” replacement unit.
But Sullivan reported that in some instances, he was informed that residents who relocated in Phase II were moved in rehabbed apartments in buildings inhabited by members of gangs who were “antagonistic” to members, relatives or friends of the relocated families.

In his report, Sullivan stated that he and his colleagues had been told of several “violent incidents” that occurred as a result of the relocations. He was also told that violence is almost certain to occur if residents of Rockwell Gardens living in the building at 340 S. Western Ave. are moved into make-ready units at the Rockwell Gardens building at 2450 W. Monroe St.

Sullivan suggested that the dangerous gang rivalries should be taken into account when relocation sites are selected, “particularly for the safety of innocent family members, other residents, and bystanders.”

Sullivan also reported personal observation of men acting as lookouts at gallery buildings, and others conducting what clearly appeared to be “illicit drug transactions,” and at one time being exhorted out of a Rockwell Gardens meeting because of gunfire.

CAC Concerns
After viewing and discussing the data provided by Sullivan, resident leaders responded with a straightforward letter detailing their specific concerns about the Plan for Transformation. Mary Wiggins, the president of the Central Advisory Council, which consists of 24 Local Advisory Council presidents, read their letter to the CHA Board of Commissioners during a mid-January public meeting.

“The deficiencies cited in the Report adversely affected a significant number of residents involved in the Phase II relocation process….It is essential going forward that families in the relocation process not be confronted with these situations,” CAC Chairman Mary Wiggins read.

Wiggins, who is also the LAC president of the CHA Washington Park Homes, continued, “It is critical that there be immediate substantive actions on these findings and recommendations to ensure that the necessary corrective and remedial actions are implemented as soon as possible to improve the relocation process, and to eliminate similar problems for families involved in relocation scheduled for 2003 and beyond.”

CAC also requested that CHA Board of Commissioners Chairman Sharon Gist Gilliam and CHA CEO Peterson ensure that the resident leadership receive quarterly reports on the progress of the redevelopment and relocation activities that CHA is required to give them – and the general public – as per the 2001 Residents Relocation Rights contract.

“The CAC hopes and expects prompt response in addressing the Independent Monitor’s findings and recommendations to develop strategies to improve the relocation process,” Wiggins said.

CHA Responds
CHA did not respond publicly to most of Sullivan’s observations. CHA spokesperson Kathryn Greenberg said “CHA and CAC had recently begun meeting to address and find solutions for future improvements with the relocation process.”

While CHA representatives would not comment on the study, CHA CEO Peterson did address the issue of the residents’ high utility bills. Peterson said after a February Tenant Services meeting that he had met with Commonwealth Edison officials within the past 6 months, and was in the process of setting up a meeting date with officials again. “We met with ComEd and talked about taking off the interest on residents’ electric bills, which can accumulate at 18 percent,” Peterson said.

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