CHA keeps leav­ing Chicagoans out

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - ANDY SHAW Andy Shaw is pres­i­dent& CEO of the Bet­ter Govern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion. Fol­low Andy Shaw on Twit­ter: @andyshaw­bga Email: ashaw@bet­ter­gov.org

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.

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 ask­ing for their spend­ing plan, and we got a re­sponse— a few days late. It was 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.

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

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