The Chicago Housing Authority’s (CHA) Plan for Transformation is a long-term effort to renew the physical structure of CHA properties, promote self-sufficiency for public housing residents, and reform administration of the CHA.

Approximately 25,000 units of housing will be built or rehabilitated by the end of 2009. Leading the effort is Sharon Gist Gilliam, CEO of CHA.

But many locals say that Mayor Richard Daley has played a critical leadership role in bringing city agencies together to make the plan work.

Knowing of Daley’s personal interest in affordable housing, Affordable Housing Finance asked him to comment on the state of public housing in America and federal policy. Here are his responses:

Q What are the two or three biggest obstacles to getting public housing operations in America’s cities back on track?

Mayor Richard Daley: One of the largest obstacles faced by public housing authorities (PHAs) today is the mindset that public housing is separate and distinct from the rest of the community. Our success in Chicago, with the Plan for Transformation, is due to everyone working together to come up with affordable housing solutions for our residents.

All the city’s agencies are involved in PHA matters, from infrastructure and planning agencies to help address physical development issues, to social service and job training departments to address quality of life issues. The private sector has more than 160 businesses working with social service providers, hiring residents, and assisting with job training and other educational programs. Foundations and nonprofit organizations are also involved and provide additional services to residents. It is definitely a holistic approach.

The issues revolving around physical infrastructure, economic integration, education, and others are all intertwined. No city can abandon a PHA and ask them to solve these types of problems alone. It needs to be the public and private sectors working together to address these issues, because these issues affect the entire community.

Q What should the Democratic Congress do to help overcome these obstacles?

Daley: The most important contribution the federal government can make is financing, and flexibility with the financing.

Q What are the most important lessons other cities can learn from the progress with Chicago’s Plan for Transformation?

Daley: Isolation and alienation of public housing does not work. Integration does work. When public housing is indistinguishable from other market-rate and affordable housing, and when public housing residents take part in their community, the entire city benefits.

Q Do cities have enough authority over how public housing agencies are operated, and what can be done to change that, since public housing is essentially owned by the federal government?

Daley: Again, PHAs don’t operate in a vacuum. Regardless of the PHA funding source, and operational structure, the entire city, public and private sectors, [has] a responsibility to address the affordable housing needs of its residents.