No one knows more about the massive failure of public housing “revitalization” than Team Obama and its hapless Chicago social engineers and architects.
In 2009, I put the spotlight on Altgeld Gardens and the unfulfilled promises of Richard Daley and Valerie Jarrett’s “Plan for Transformation.”
For decades, the public housing boondoggle has provided lucrative jobs and windfalls for Daley cronies and developers.
The failure to make the communities safe for families and kids touches not only Obama, but his closest advisers — including real estate mogul/Daley operative/consigliere/city planning commissioner/Habitat Company chief Valerie Jarrett.
Daley/Jarrett’s “Plan for Transformation” for Chicago public housing was like Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize “achievement”– far more aspirational than concrete:
Chicago’s grand experiment to transform public housing is lagging nearly a decade after Mayor Richard Daley’s administration turned to private developers to shape the future of housing for the city’s poor.
Conceived amid a rising housing market, the city’s Plan for Transformation used hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars and virtual giveaways of public land to reverse decades of neglect that confined the city’s poorest residents to racially segregated ghettos.
Demolition of Chicago’s reviled high-rises became a national symbol of change and hope, but little attention has been focused on what happened next as rhetoric collided with realities.
A Tribune investigation found that almost nine years into what was billed as a 10-year program, the city has completed only 30 percent of the plan’s most ambitious element tearing down entire housing projects and replacing them with new neighborhoods where poor, working-class and wealthier families would live side by side.
Mayor Richard Daley declared eight years ago that Chicago would end “the failed policies of the past.” Yet a Tribune investigation found that the city has pumped hundreds of millions of federal tax dollars into housing complexes that preserve the very policies the plan was meant to reverse.
The largest is the Altgeld-Murray Homes, a sprawling 190-acre development built on the Far South Side for black factory workers during World War II. At that development alone, the CHA plans to spend $451 million rehabbing 1,998 barracks-style apartments, with politically connected Walsh Construction doing much of the work.
Altgeld sits in one of the city’s most isolated areas. The nearest supermarket is miles away. Only one bus route serves the development. And it backs up to the Little Calumet River in an area once known as “The Toxic Doughnut” because of a long history of environmental problems.
Crime is another challenge. Open drug markets thrive at Altgeld, and shootings occur frequently enough to keep residents on edge.
“You guys are an island out here, cut off from everyone else,” John Ball, the local police commander, noted during a recent community meeting with residents.
For generations, public housing in Chicago was a highly visible failure. In the mid-1990s, the agency began demolishing more than 13,000 public housing units on prime real estate to make way for new developments where poor residents are supposed to live alongside wealthier families.
Those mixed-income developments are now more than a decade behind schedule. The same problem plagues the CHA’s efforts to rehab the public housing that wasn’t demolished, with fewer than half of those units finished.
At Altgeld, about two-thirds of the units lie empty, despite a severe shortage of affordable housing across the region. Some of the apartments are awaiting rehab, and others remain vacant because the CHA has had trouble persuading residents displaced by demolition to relocate to Altgeld.
It should come as no surprise that the same costly, barren schemes have continued nationwide.
The Washington Post reported this weekend in an in-depth investigation that “a pattern of HUD projects” intended to provide housing for the poor has become a wasteland of taxpayer funds.
The federal government’s largest housing construction program for the poor has squandered hundreds of millions of dollars on stalled or abandoned projects and routinely failed to crack down on derelict developers or the local housing agencies that funded them.
Nationwide, nearly 700 projects awarded $400 million have been idling for years, a Washington Post investigation found. Some have languished for a decade or longer even as much of the country struggles with record-high foreclosures and a dramatic loss of affordable housing.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the nation’s housing fund, has largely looked the other way: It does not track the pace of construction and often fails to spot defunct deals, instead trusting local agencies to police projects.
The result is a trail of failed developments in every corner of the country. Fields where apartment complexes were promised are empty and neglected. Houses that were supposed to be renovated are boarded up and crumbling, eyesores in decaying neighborhoods.
…The Post examined every major project currently funded under the HUD program, analyzing a database of 5,100 projects worth $3.2 billion, studying more than 600 satellite images and collecting information from 165 housing agencies nationwide.
The yearlong investigation uncovered a dysfunctional system that delivers billions of dollars to local housing agencies with few rules, safeguards or even a reliable way to track projects. The lapses have led to widespread misspending and delays in a two-decade-old program meant to deliver decent housing to the working poor.
The Post found breakdowns at every level:
• Local housing agencies have doled out millions to troubled developers, including novice builders, fledgling nonprofits and groups accused of fraud or delivering shoddy work.
• Checks were cut even when projects were still on the drawing boards, without land, financing or permits to move forward. In at least 55 cases, developers drew HUD money but left behind only barren lots.
• Overall, nearly one in seven projects shows signs of significant delay. Time and again, housing agencies failed to cancel bad deals or alert HUD when projects foundered.
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