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Garcia turns up pressure on Emanuel over Chicago housing

Jesus “Chuy” Garcia accused Mayor Rahm Emanuel of abandoning “hundreds of thousands of Chicago’s poorest families” for allegedly diverting $440 million away from housing vouchers, rehab and construction away from “its core responsibilities.” 

“Mayor Emanuel controls the CHA — and for four years now he’s shortchanged low-wage workers, seniors on fixed incomes and children in poverty of critically needed affordable housing,” Garcia said in a statement on Thursday. “This is one more sad example of Mayor Emanuel’s track record of broken promises, bad choices and wrong priorities. The people of this city deserve better.”

Last fall, housing activists introduced a so-called “Keeping the Promise” ordinance that would tighten the reins on the Chicago Housing Authority, to require it to file quarterly reports to the City Council’s Housing Committee on its “vacant and offline housing ward-by-ward.” The reports would include the voucher utilization rate and progress building replacement public housing.

Last month, activists accused the CHA of failing to circulate more than 13,500 vouchers a year since 2008 and leaving $100 million unspent every year.

But Chicago Housing Authority board chair Zaldwawynaka “Z” Scott took issue with that contention, saying that under Emanuel, affordable housing opportunities have expanded and plans are in the works this year to make $240 million of investments into affordable units.

“CHA has created 9,000 new housing opportunities for Chicago residents since Mayor Emanuel took office,” Scott told the Sun-Times in a statement. “This year CHA will invest $240 million ‎to build affordable housing units across the city on top of the $135 million spent last year to develop affordable housing for low-income families and seniors. By the end of 2015 CHA plans to provide affordable housing vouchers to more than 43,000 families in need, an increase of more than 8,000 since 2011.”

On Thursday, Emanuel was asked to explain why a Chicago Housing Authority run by his hand-picked CEO and appointed board is still sitting on a $440 million surplus.

“Three thousand families have been moved and the CHA has to move faster in moving more families,” the mayor said after joining County Board President Toni Preckwinkle at a business roundtable at 2032 W. Fulton Ave.

Pressed on why the CHA hasn’t moved faster, Emanuel said, “As I said, they’ve moved 3,000 families. That’s 3,000 more families. And they have a responsibility to keep moving more families into the affordable housing that they need to do.”

The mayor cut off the questioning and got into his waiting black SUV when asked why so much of the stockpiled CHA surplus has been diverted to pensions and used to retire debt.