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MPC’s public housing forum revisits the rehabs

On Feb. 28, 2008, more than 100 stakeholders, residents and policymakers attended “Revisiting the Rehabs,” MPC’s 13th Building Successful Mixed-Income Communities forum. Focusing on the renovation of existing CHA family properties, the first forum of the year expanded the public dialogue in the series beyond the mixed-income sites to the broader Plan for Transformation, which is creating a variety of housing options for CHA residents. While the rehabs and scattered sites have not been referred to as mixed-income communities, the goals at the heart of the Plan are to improve the buildings and support residents at these sites as well. The "mixing" of incomes at these sites is more about increasing the income and income sources of existing residents rather than creating new housing types.

Two of Chicago’s newest housing leaders, Lewis Jordan , CEO of CHA, and Ellen Sahli , commissioner of the Chicago Dept. of Housing, opened the forum, which featured a panel discussion with a national researcher, Dr. Thomas Boston , professor of Economics, Georgia Tech University; and local practitioners, Charles Hillman , assistant director of asset management, CHA ; and Mary Wiggins , chair of the Residents’ Central Advisory Council (CAC), and a member of the CHA Board of Commissioners. Pam Daniels-Halisi , senior vice president of community development lending at LaSalle/Bank of America, and MPC Housing Committee member, moderated the panel. MPC also released its latest Plan for Transformation Update on the development status of renovated family properties, scattered sites, and new mixed-income communities.

As the newly appointed CEO of CHA, Mr. Jordan expressed his excitement about working with CHA staff and partners, and building on the level of interest and support of so many stakeholders in making the Plan for Transformation a success. He spoke frankly about the poor quality of CHA’s traditional public housing in the past, but emphasized a commitment to improving the physical quality of the housing, as well as higher expectations for residents’ quality of life. “Chicago is in the midst of the largest public housing redevelopment in the country,” he said. While continuing to raise standards, “the foundation of CHA’s vision should be quality of life for residents. When children become 18, CHA’s goal is to make sure they have other options,” said Jordan.

Commissioner Sahli connected the Plan for Transformation to the city’s larger affordable housing agenda . Homes preserved and created through the Plan advance the city’s overall affordable housing goals for both low and moderate-income families. Ms. Sahli, who has an extensive background in the supportive housing field, also highlighted the importance of combining rent subsidies with support services to help people increase their incomes.

Dr. Boston shared insights based on his four-year research of outcomes for Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) residents. Using data for every AHA household over the past 10 years, his research tracked indicators such as employment status, income, education, and poverty status over time and linked them to community indicators such as crime rates, poverty levels, and school quality. “When families have access to quality housing and neighborhoods, they have drastically different socio-economic outcomes,” he said. Dr. Boston is in the initial stage of a similar study of CHA residents, funded by the MacArthur Foundation.

Boston stressed the correlation between neighborhood stability and resident self-sufficiency. “Housing assistance alone will not lead to self-sufficiency,” he said, and attention must be placed on broader service and community networks. He described other best practices for achieving the goal of self-sufficiency for residents and creating better neighborhoods, such as engaging public and private partners to improve original neighborhoods with necessary policies and to attract new investment. “In many communities, financing is easier to address than the sociology of making them successful,” said Boston.

Hillman outlined the overall physical, cultural, and economic goals of the Plan for Transformation for CHA leaseholders . As of the end of 2007, CHA has completed 65 percent of its goal to create 25,000 homes. Of that, CHA has renovated more than 2,000 units in traditional family properties , representing 43 percent of its goal for these sites.

Hillman described the comprehensive renovations—infrastructure, interior, exterior—that are completed, taking place or planned in a number of family properties including, Altgeld-Murray, Lawndale , and Washington Park Low-Rise homes. The cost of these renovations has increased significantly since the beginning of the Plan, with a current cost between $120,000 and $150,000 per unit. Along with investments in physical renovations, he said, “CHA wants to be comprehensive in its efforts and spends over $25 million of its own funds and from its partnerships on social services such as case management, children and youth services, and workforce development.” These services and more are provided in all communities where CHA residents temporarily or permanently reside. Moreover, Hillman stressed that “all residents of Chicago have a lot to offer, including CHA families, and people should not be defined by their landlords.”

Ms. Wiggins spoke from her perspective as a CHA resident, leader of the Resident’s Central Advisory Council (CAC) and a member of the Board of Commissioners. She reiterated the goal to move all residents to self-sufficiency, including those living in the rehabbed family properties and stressed that all stakeholders are “working for the greater good of CHA residents.” Given the large investments of CHA and its partners, she said, “No one is asking CHA to spend money and not hold residents accountable,” but it’s important to remember that “employment places have closed and residents are affected by the job market like other Chicagoans.” Ms. Wiggins also emphasized “many CHA residents are successful and have moved on from public housing, but their stories are not told.”

A brief Q&A session following the panelists’ presentations touched on a variety of topics, including the additional supports and resources needed in the “rehabs,” impact of the Plan for Transformation on children, and importance of the rehabs to the overall Plan for Transformation.

Even at the conclusion of a robust Q&A session, there was still tremendous appetite for further dialogue and debate. MPC explained there would be future opportunities to delve into the many topics touched on at the forum, such as building rehabilitation, property management, neighborhood redevelopment, social services, and resident engagement.

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