CHA might take over Section 8 from contractors in wake of reports
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The Chicago Housing Authority is considering taking back control of management of the agency’s biggest public housing program — Section 8 apartment and home rentals — from the two private contractors now overseeing the housing voucher program.
That follows a Chicago Sun-Times and the Better Government Association investigation that found four of every 10 housing-voucher program tenants are living in places that have been cited in the past five years for city building code violations.
Even getting into the program can be difficult. Poor people trying to obtain a housing voucher to rent a privately owned apartment or house face a daunting bureaucracy, the Sun-Times and BGA have reported, as well as a wait that can be years.
The CHA says the review is part of a larger analysis of its operations and contracts ordered by Eugene Jones Jr., who was named chief executive officer of the agency by Mayor Rahm Emanuel a year ago, becoming the housing authority’s fifth CEO in four years.
This year, the CHA stands to pay CVR Associates of Florida and Nan McKay of California more than $27 million to run the Section 8 housing choice voucher program.
Currently, CHA housing vouchers cover some or all of the rent — depending on income and family size — for people to lease nearly 46,000 privately owned apartments and single-family homes.
The two private contractors’ jobs include managing the wait list for the coveted vouchers, helping place people in housing, inspecting the apartments and homes and operating a call center for tenants to take complaints and answer questions about the program.
The CHA turned over the voucher program to private contractors 20 years ago. Taking back management of the program would mark a dramatic reversal of policy for a public housing body that, like government housing agencies elsewhere, has privatized much of its operations over the past two decades.
“It is counter to the trend,” says Robert Whitfield, an attorney who has represented public housing residents and tenant leaders and was the CHA’s chief operating officer in the 1990s.
Jones arrived last year at an agency that’s faced criticism for holding onto hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding even as thousands of people remain on waiting lists for housing assistance.
“We believe it is good for us to look at how well the program is working and what, if anything, can be changed or improved,” Jones says of the voucher program.
The CHA is seeking bids, due Friday, for a contractor to analyze the costs and benefits of managing the program with the agency’s own staff vs. continuing to outsource that job.
“I don’t think anyone should be under the illusion that any one way is going to solve every problem,” Whitfield says. “If you ask me if bringing it in-house will solve every problem, I would doubt it.”
Nan McKay, who founded the firm that bears her name, declined to comment. CVR executives didn’t respond to interview requests.
Under its current one-year contract, which runs through March, CVR stands to be paid as much as $16.2 million and Nan McKay up to $11.2 million.
CVR has helped run the Section 8 program since 2011 with Nan McKay and, before that, with another firm, Quadel Consulting, since 2008. CVR and Nan McKay have collected tens of millions of dollars to manage the program over the past eight years.
“Anything that standardizes and streamlines the voucher program and inspections is welcome,” Leah Levinger, executive director of the Chicago Housing Initiative, a coalition of housing activists, says of the study. “It is baffling to have two contractors.”
Before the CHA first brought in CVR, Quadel was the sole private manager of the voucher program. When the CHA hired Quadel in the mid-1990s, the agency acknowledged that its handling of the program was plagued with problems.
“After years of agency mismanagement, the Section 8 program was transferred to private management in 1996, and, since that time, administration of the program has improved tremendously,” CHA officials said in a 2000 report to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, which provides the lion’s share of funding to the CHA and other public housing agencies nationwide.
Brett Chase is an investigator for the Better Government Association.
Contributing: Tim Novak, Chris Fusco and Mick Dumke