Mayor Rahm Emanuel is down to two candidates to replace interim CEO Carlos Ponce at the Chicago Housing Authority. Ponce relieved former CEO Lewis Jordan, who was forced to resign last June over a controversy of his use of the agency’s credit card. According to the Chicago Tribune, although the mayor announced last week that he has narrowed his selection down to two, he has yet say which candidates remain in the run.
Careful consideration is being taken for this position, whose chief concern will be to deal with a stubborn real estate market that has hampered efforts to create vibrant mixed-income developments where crime-ridden high-rises once stood. These developments are the linchpin in the CHA’s $1.6 billion Plan for Transformation, launched in 1999 and expected to be complete by 2015, a long wait for the roughly 4,000 families still waiting for new public housing units.
Fears that the federally funded effort would reconcentrate poverty in already impoverished neighborhoods such as Englewood or South Shore have been put to rest as residents have primarily been moved to diverse neighborhoods such as Uptown, West Ridge and Edgewater. This diversifying success was accomplished by replacing federal housing choice voucher rent subsidies, which the majority of CHA families have used to relocate to the Englewood and South Shore neighborhoods, with the ambitious Property Rental Assistance Program, which offers alternative “project-based” subsidies.
The CHA struck agreements with owners of multifamily buildings frustrated by apartment vacancies to create subsidies linked to property whereas the housing choice vouchers are linked to specific tenants. This method has allowed the CHA gain a foothold in “areas of opportunity” and has been described by Ponce as “the horse” that will get the agency to the goal of creating or rehabbing 25,000 public housing units by 2015.
Emanuel will be hard pressed to choose a candidate that can carry on the success of the agency as CEO. Robin Synderman, housing director at the Metropolitan Planning Council, described the difficulties of the CEO’s position as “rocket science.” Whoever the new CEO is, 4,000 families awaiting relocation and many others will be watching expectantly to see how well successes of the agency are continued and the shortcomings rectified.