Sweet column: Obama boasts about affordable housing experience. After Sun-Times reveals relationship with slumlord

SHARE Sweet column: Obama boasts about affordable housing experience. After Sun-Times reveals relationship with slumlord

WASHINGTON — Democratic White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama boasted Tuesday of his experience with affordable housing.

His comments came a day after a story in the Chicago Sun-Times questioned the 17-year relationship between Obama, a former state senator, and a Chicago slumlord, Antoin “Tony” Rezko.

The article, by reporter Tim Novak, said Obama, who worked as a lawyer and legislator to improve living conditions for the poor, took campaign donations from Rezko as Rezko’s low-income buildings — including 11 in Obama’s state Senate district — were falling into disrepair. Many of Rezko’s housing deals — 15 buildings with 400 apartments between 1995 and 1998 — involved teaming with community development groups, tapping into a mix of private financing and loans from the city or state, federal low-income-housing tax credits and bank loans.

Responding to the story on Monday in Chicago, Obama said he took political contributions from Rezko not knowing he was a slumlord with troubled buildings in his district.

Tuesday in Washington, Obama was asked about a “crisis of affordable housing here in the United States” by an audience member during a presidential forum sponsored by the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Obama said as part of his reply, “I have experience in this area, having worked at the community level.”

Obama said the “old models” once used in Chicago — segregated high-rises that “concentrated poverty” — were a “mistake.”

Instead, said Obama, “What we need to do is get community development corporations and faith-based organizations, synagogues, others that are interested in setting up not-for-profit 501c3’s to build affordable housing that is integrated into the community, integrated economically, by the way, not just racially. And the federal government’s role then is to properly fund and subsidize those efforts.”


Another question at the forum was about Obama’s support from the Muslim-American and Arab-American communities and “when push comes to shove, how can you make us as Jews totally comfortable in addressing the issues in Israel?”

Obama has received considerable fund-raising support from the Jewish community, and one of his staff fund-raisers was at the NJDC event. Obama said the “underlying premise” of the question was “false.”

“My support within the Jewish community probably has been much more significant than any support that I have received from the Muslim-American community, although I welcome and actively seek support in the Muslim-American community as well.”

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