Andy Shaw: CHA keeps leaving Chicagoans out in the cold

SHARE Andy Shaw: CHA keeps leaving Chicagoans out in the cold

Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) is among those pushing the CHA to release funds to house the poor in Chicago. Sun-Times file photo by Al Podgorski.

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It’s tempting to describe our dystopian city, suburban and state governments in Shakespearean terms —“A Comedy of Errors.”

But too many lives and livelihoods are at stake to consider these debacles even slightly comedic.


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The state has gone eight months without a budget, so there’s been no funding for college students, their academic institutions, or many of the social and human service agencies that protect the needy.

An investigation by the Sun-Times and Better Government Association uncovers sweetheart pension deals for Chicago Transit Authority executives and board members — another example of tax dollars lining the pockets of connected insiders.

Chicago’s public schools, which are supposed to educate a low-income, mostly minority student population, could run out of money this year, and teachers may strike next month over threatened pay cuts.

And Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration continues to reel from a police scandal that’s capturing unflattering national and international headlines, and raising new questions every week about the exorbitant cost and wrenching tragedy of police brutality.

With so many high-visibility train wrecks around us, chronic mismanagement of the city’s public housing agency has flown under the radar.

Five executive directors have come and gone from the Chicago Housing Authority in the past five years, and some have demonstrated patterns of behavior that are, at best, troubling.

The most egregious recent violation of public trust, from our good government perspective, is the CHA’s stockpiling of federal funds while tens of thousands of low-income seniors, families and homeless people languish on waiting lists for housing assistance.

The CHA’s piggy bank is bulging with at least $220 million and as much as $440 million — epitomizing public policy at its worst.

Adding insult to injury, the CHA apparently has a plan for spending down the reserves, but it hasn’t been released or posted online.

So we turned to the most reliable tool in our watchdog toolbox — the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

We submitted a FOIA request to the CHA — you can read it here — asking for their spending plan, and we got a response — a few days late — which you can read here.

It won’t take long — it’s only one page.

We were also directed to the agency’s annual budgets and quarterly reports for details, but none of those documents outline a clear plan or demonstrate a solid commitment to spending the accumulated funds.

So we’re borrowing a line from an old TV ad: “Where’s the beef?”

Or, what’s the plan, man?

CHA boss Eugene Jones Jr. is promising to release it shortly, make himself more accessible to the public and the City Council, and restore the agency’s accountability.

He’s talking the talk, but we’re waiting for him to walk the walk, and so are the folks who’ve been waiting too long for local housing officials to do their jobs, which is to provide safe, clean, affordable housing to people whose well-being depends on it.

It’s unacceptable to sit on sorely needed federal funds.

It’s unprofessional to hide details of the spending plan.

And it’s unrealistic to take a “trust us — wait and see” approach, and expect us to buy it.

It’s time for the mayor and the City Council to lean on the CHA hard, until those housing officials fulfill their mission by doing their jobs.

And it’s time — here we go again — to start restoring the public’s faith in another dystopian government agency.

Andy Shaw is President and CEO of the Better Government Association.


Follow Andy Shaw on Twitter: @andyshawbga

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