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Much of Wednesday’s discussion centered on the legacy of the Plan for Transformation, a controversial chapter of Chicago’s public housing history. In 2000, the city embarked on a $1.6 billion initiative to tear down its beleaguered public high-rises, pledging to replace them with 25,000 new or rehabilitated units in “mixed-income” communities. While more than 18,000 units were demolished in the plan’s first decade, rebuilding is now nearly six years behind schedule and still inching towards completion. Advocates say that CHA’s policies have driven thousands of poor, Black residents out of the city.
“Six years later, we’re still short 2,000 units,” said Dearborn Homes resident Etta Davis, a supporter of the ordinance. “We listened to CHA when they said they had a plan, but now we’re asking for a promise in writing.”
Chicago’s own staggering reserves were discovered in 2014, after a series of public records requests turned up some murky accounting, said Amanda Kass, an analyst at the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability and another proponent of the ordinance. According to her organization’s analysis, between 2008 and 2012 the agency squirreled away much of the federal money allocated for housing vouchers, issuing 13,000 fewer vouchers than it could have each year.
Instead, her organization discovered, the CHA quietly used $250 million of reserves to pay down its debt early, earning it the highest credit-rating of any public housing agency nationwide. While that makes it an attractive prospect for investors and could entail long-term savings, advocates argue it does little to advance the agency’s core mission of providing housing to Chicago residents.