CHICAGO With each unit built or
rehabbed, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) moves a step
closer to completing its massive Plan for
Seeking to replace or restore 25,000 units, the Plan is
the largest and most ambitious public housing reform eff
ort in the nation. It has meant that Chicago’s old
high-rise projects, including the notorious Cabrini-Green
buildings, have been knocked down and are being replaced by
brand-new mixed-income, mid-rise communities.
CHA, which launched the Plan in 2000, is about 82
percent toward its goal, having completed 20,480 units as
of early June. This includes 9,277 seniors units, 2,555
scattered-site homes, 3,815 family housing rehabs, and
3,064 public housing units in mixed-income projects.
“We’ve accomplished a tremendous
amount of work, both on the bricks-andsticks side and the
human side,” says William Little, executive vice
president of development at CHA. “We’re
very confident that we are going to hit 25,000 units by
CHA didn’t finish the work in 10 years as
originally planned. Realizing that the schedule was too
aggressive in a tough economic environment, CHA offi- cials
revised the timeline a few years ago, giving themselves
another five years.
The agency, which has had three CEOs since the Plan
started, is now inching toward the finish line. In 2010,
CHA delivered 1,086 units in 2010 and continues to bring
more units on-line.
“I think the progress has been phenomenal,
especially when you view it in the sense this is one of the
most ambitious urban renewal initiatives undertaken," says
Lawrence Grisham, senior vice president, community
development, at The Habitat Co. in Chicago, which until
last year had been the court-appointed receiver overseeing
development for the CHA for 23 years.
Grisham says the Plan is important on two fronts.
It’s creating better and safer housing for
thousands of public housing residents. It’s also
having an overall impact on the city. “These
communities had high concentrations of poverty,”
he says. “It made sustainability difficult. Now,
if you visit the sites, it’s an entirely diff
erent physical situation. You don’t have
high-rises looming over everything. You have quieter,
safer, economically diverse neighborhoods."
CHA and the communities have put tremendous work into
the Plan. The challenge will be to sustain that same level
of eff ort through to the end, Grisham says.
The Business and Professional People for the Public
Interest (BPI), a public interest law and policy center in
Chicago, gives the first decade a mixed review.
In some respects, CHA has performed satisfactorily, but
in others they have had a lot of catch-up to do after some
early stumbles, says Alexander Polikoff , director of
BPI’s public housing program.
On the plus side, most of the new mixed-income
communities have been well launched, says BPI in its
“The Third Side: A Mid-Course Report on
Chicago’s Transformation of Public Housing."
“Although much work remains to be done, public
housing units in the new communities are not clustered in
one section but are scattered among and are architecturally
indistinguishable from market-rate and aff ordable
rowhouses, townhomes, and elevator buildings—a
radical departure from the generally isolated, often
shoddily constructed, easily identifiable public housing
they have replaced," says BPI, which praises housing
officials for their bold vision.
The effort, which is costing well more than $1 billion,
has been a true community eff ort with CHA, the city, and a
large number of partners, including about 10 private
development firms that have been involved in building the
new mixed-income neighborhoods.
On the negative side, BPI found that the development of
retail and service establishments in the new communities
has been spotty. The group also wants to see more
cooperation between CHA and Chicago Public Schools to
establish good local schools.
BPI has also been very critical of the
“people” part of the Plan, saying the
relocation of residents was “badly flawed at the
outset” and that social services were also poorly
managed at the beginning.
The 2009 report also urges CHA to convert its
traditional public housing developments that are not being
demolished to mixed-income communities, noting that housing
officials were moving in that direction in a few cases.
This recommendation came as 10 traditional developments
were slated to be rehabbed but were set to remain
exclusively for public housing families. For-sale housing,
an integral part of the mixed-income neighborhoods that CHA
is trying to create, remains one of the toughest challenges
When the housing authority set forth on its eff orts, a
big question was whether it could even build for-sale
housing at price points and in communities that were
untested that would attract buyers.
CHA couldn’t get banks to “front
fund” the money it needed during construction. In
one case, CHA worked with the MacArthur Foundation, Fannie
Mae, and the United Methodist Pension Fund to figure out
how to come up with a frontfunding mechanism. MacArthur
ended up issuing a guarantee to Fannie Mae and the United
Methodist Pension Fund to help get the units going. Before
the market tanked, units were selling briskly, Little
He notes CHA will look at other strategies. For example,
some future deals may resemble 80/20 projects, where 80
percent of the units are market-rate rentals and 20 percent
are public housing as a way to get market-rate stakeholders
into the communities as an avenue other than condos and
CHA will consider pursuing more acquisitions, which
could provide some good opportunities and give the agency
more flexibility when it comes to developing on the
footprint of its own sites.
“The mission, the theory, the spirit is still
the same—mixed-income communities," Little
CHA OPENS THE KENMORE
The Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) recently opened the
100-unit Kenmore Senior Apartments after completing a major
Overall, CHA has completed about 99 percent of the 9,382
senior-designated housing units promised under the Plan for
The Kenmore, which has a total development price tag of
$30 million, is designed to achieve Leadership in Energy
and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum certification. It
will be CHA’s first LEED-certified building.
Like many of the other transactions under the Plan, The
Kenmore was financed with tax-exempt bonds and low-income
housing tax credits (LIHTCs).
Financing included a $16.8 million federal stimulus
grant plus about $9 million in LIHTC equity from Red Stone
Equity Partners and Met Life. During construction, about
$16 million in tax-exempt bond proceeds were made available
by Bank of America.