HUD Tenants Form Association, Win Big

HUD tenants recently had concerns about bed bugs, issues with re-certification, retaliation by management, and the use of their community room in their building.  Management at first did nothing to resolve the complaints.  Tenants called MTO and building organizer David Wilson went to the building and informed them of their rights.  Tenants in the Park Shore East building located at 6250 S. Harper then formed an association.

Tenants know that while committed individuals can make change, collective efforts are far stronger than the actions of individuals.  The tenants association requested a meeting with management.  Building management told the tenants they heard their issues and that they would be taken into consideration. At the next tenants’ association meeting, the leadership announced that the management brought in specially trained dogs to check for bed bugs and management agreed to extended time for the community room. It takes a tenants association to assert your rights,  and organizing get the goods!

If you want to form a tenants association, call 773-292-4988 and request to speak with a community organizer.  


MTO Tenant Champion – Mr. Green

I was sad the day I learned that Mr. Green had passed.   No one can remember the first day that Mr. Green began volunteering in the MTO office but it was a while ago, before we moved to our current location at 1727 S. Indiana.  He first became involved with MTO because his HUD building was in terrible shape and he wanted to start a tenants association.  He threw his whole self into organizing the tenants, who then voted him to be the association’s president.  The tenants under his leadership gathered for monthly meetings, wrote and met with HUD officials, joined with other HUD tenants and even protested outside of HUD’s offices and in the end, the tenants won many of their demands.   HUD paid for the rehab of his entire building.

Mr. Green was so much more than president of Lake Vista Tenants’ Association.  He was a dedicated volunteer who always gave to MTO.  He would come to the office nearly every day to volunteer on the hotline, sharing his knowledge with thousands of tenants in need.  Mr. Green was in many ways MTO’s messenger.  His wheelchair was an MTO billboard hosting signs that read, ”Housing is a Human Right” or “Tenants Know Your Rights”.   He collected thousands of signatures in support of the Source of Income laws for Section 8 tenants.  He would pass out MTO know your rights flyers on buses, at rallies or in his neighborhood.  Sometimes I would ask tenants how they heard of MTO.  They responded, “The guy in the wheelchair gave me your number.”

For Mr. Green, it was MTO and the Cubs that stirred his passion.  He was so happy the year Cubs finally won a world series.  He came into the office with a huge smile on his face and said we did it.  After a few high fives coupled with some baseball gossip, he sat down to begin answering tenants calls for help.  There will never be another Mr.  Green.  To MTO and the tenants he helped, Mr. Green was a hero and a champion of tenants’ rights. by John Bartlett

The Power of Organizing

I went to went to Lake Vista Apartments almost three weeks ago at the beginning of September.  The building looked amazing.  Almost everything is new.  The first floor was WOW. I wished I had taken pictures of the building when we started because the change is incredible.  I would move in there, it looks so good.  Seeing the change reminds me of the power tenants have when they work together.

I first went to the building almost 13 years ago and it was a mess.  Lake Vista tenant Mr.  Green called our hotline because he wanted to start a tenants association.  Mr. Green believed in housing equity. He did not think it fair the low-income residents in his building should live in fear because of poor security.  Tenants complained of being robbed in the hallways and parking lot.  With MTO’s help, tenants formed the Lake Vista Tenants Association and elected Mr. Green as President.

His first step as president was to set up an all tenants meetings with the manager and the property owner.  At the meeting, Mr. Green laid out the tenants demand for 24-hour security.  While the owner did not agree to that, the owner did agree to install security cameras in the parking lot, laundry rooms and throughout the first floor.  Security improved.

Improved security was just the beginning for the Lake Vista Tenants Association.  The building was old and in need of maintenance.  The building had pests, mold, appliances and cabinets that were as old as many of the residents.  As President, Mr. Green made sure the tenants understood the RLTO and that they engaged with HUD, the holder of the purse strings.  Mr. Green and the other tenants testified every year at MTO’s HUD Tenants Town Hall.  The tenants association challenged the owner as well as HUD officials to take care of the problems and make the building better for the senior residents. In the end, the owner and HUD officials agreed to rehab the entire complex.

The $14 million rehab is complete. The tenants have new meeting and exercise rooms, new cabinets, remodeled kitchens, and it is all repainted.  Unfortunately, Mr. Green did not get a chance to enjoy the new construction of the building as he is with his Lord but I am proud to say he played a huge role in it. Organizing works.  By David Wilson, Community Organizer

Report challenges tie between housing vouchers, crime: Chicago Tribune


Renters’ use of housing choice vouchers, more commonly known as Section 8 vouchers, long has worried communities that the arrival of voucher-holding tenants in a neighborhood will lead to crime and, eventually, lower property values.

That’s not true, says a new policy brief by researchers who studied crime patterns and voucher use in Chicago and nine other large cities over a number of years.

Read more here.

Chicago Tribune – March 29, 2013

Clergy Support Source of Income Campaign

MTO, Access Living and Progress Center Illinois held a Prayer Breakfast regarding the Source of Income amendment on January 15,  2013 at Pearl’s Place in Chicago.  Over forty pastors and community leaders from across the city and suburbs were in attendance to hear from Housing Choice Voucher holders about experiences with discrimination based on their income.

Currently, the City of Chicago already prohibits landlords from discriminating against voucher holders.  In the suburbs of Cook County, landlords can and do deny people housing solely because they have a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher.  The Source of Income amendment is a protection that would require landlords to consider renting to Housing Choice Voucher holders.  It would not force a landlord to participate in the program if the tenant does not meet typical requirements (i.e. poor credit rating, bad landlord reference).  The amendment would give people with vouchers the equal opportunity to housing.

On Thursday January 24, 2013 from 2-4 pm at Progress Center Blue Island, MTO, Access Living and Progress Center IL invite you to attend a Town Hall meeting discussing housing discrimination.  Come out and share your experiences with us, and help end housing discrimination and segregation.  If you believe in equal opportunity, join us and show your support.  For more information/transportation call us at 773-292-4980 ext. 224.


Renters Protest Oak Park’s Largest Landlord

On Thursday, December 13, 2012, more than 40 tenants and advocates from across Cook County picketed Oak Park Apartments’ headquarters on Chicago Avenue to protest the company’s refusal to accept Housing Choice Vouchers.  While it may be legal in Cook County suburbs to refuse to rent to Housing Choice Voucher holders, it is not morally right.

According to one Housing Choice Voucher holder that lives in Oak Park, who wanted to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, “I have been denied occupancy in countless properties including Oak Park Apartments, just because I have a voucher.  This is just not fair.  I pay my rent yet I cannot live in certain buildings!”

Adam Ballard of Access Living and a voucher holder stated, “Many people with disabilities rely on vouchers for their housing.  We want Oak Park Apartments and Cook County to end this legalized discrimination.   All we are asking is to be treated like anyone else.”

Currently, the City of Chicago forbids landlords to discriminate against voucher holders.  There is no such prohibition in Cook County suburbs.  Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia, is trying to change that and has introduced legislation that would amend the County’s Human Rights Ordinance to make it illegal to discriminate against Housing Choice Voucher holders.

After the picket, tenants went to Cook County Commissioner Earlene Collins’ office.  The group wanted to know why Commissioner Collins had not signed on as a supporter of the amendment.  While the Commissioner was away at the time, the group was promised a meeting with the Commissioner.

According to Shirley Johnson, Organizing Director of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, “Section 8, Housing Choice Voucher Holders are stereotyped and therefore often forced to live in high crime, low opportunity communities.  The recent presidential election proved that it is a “new America” where diversity rules. A rental policy that refuses to rent to voucher holders is blatant discrimination and should be outlawed, especially in today’s modern society.”

Oak Park Apartments claims to offer “the largest selection of well-maintained apartments perfect for those who want to experience Oak Park’s architectural character, its excellent school system and vibrant and diverse village feel.”  However, they intentionally exclude Housing Choice Voucher holders from these opportunities.

Access Living, Progress Center and the Metropolitan Tenants Organization organized the protest.  The groups promised to return.  According to Adam Ballard of Access Living, “The fight for our rights has just begun.”

Rally at City Hall Against Proposed Demolition of 1,800 CHA Units

On Friday, October 12th, Chicagoans gathered at City Hall to protest the Chicago Housing Authority’s (CHA) proposed demolition of 1800 public housing units. Metropolitan Tenants Organization’s tenant leaders in conjunction with the Chicago Housing Initiative (CHI) led the charge against the proposed cuts.

“We need these units leased up not knocked down,” said Executive Director of People for Community Recovery and Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO) member, Cheryl Johnson. Ms. Johnson who is a resident of Altgeld Gardens, expressed concern about the more than 600 units slated for demolition at Altgeld Gardens. “This is about our future and ability to stay in our community,” said Johnson. “If they knock these units down, what’s to stop CHA from knocking the rest of our community down.”

After hearing from the hundreds of tenants outside the Mayor’s office on the 5th floor, staff for Mayor Emanuel’s office agreed to meet with coalition representatives to discuss the proposals for demolition. Organizers are hopeful the Mayor will intervene to stop the demolitions.

“The CHA exists for only one reason and that is to provide affordable housing to low-income residents,” said Leah Levinger, coordinator of the Chicago Housing Initiative. “The CHI coalition will continue to raise public awareness around the issue of leasing these units out,” said Levinger. “We are asking that Mayor Emanuel intervene to set the CHA back on track.”

According to the CHI, over 60,000 people are on CHA’s waiting list. This, in a time when Chicagoan’s incomes are down as much as 10%, and local rental rates have – over the past few years – increased by 14%. MTO supports CHI’s efforts to push CHA to lease out more public housing units and opposes the proposed demolition.

For more information or to get involved in this campaign contact MTO community organizer Noah Moscowitz at 773.292.4980 ext 236 or at

Tenants Lead the Fight Against Discrimination

Low-income tenants throughout the city are fighting to end discrimination against voucher holders in suburban Cook County.  One tenant leader, Mr. Green wages an inspiring daily campaign from his wheelchair.  Mr. Green has lived at 1440 S. Indiana for about three years.  Residents of the building turn to Mr. Green to act as a liaison between them and the management.  His commitment to improving the quality of life for the tenants of his building led him to become a member of MTO.  Mr. Green not only works in his building, but also is a regular attendee of the monthly meetings of the Tenants Congress.  This group is leading the Source of Income campaign.

In Chicago, it is against the law to discriminate against Section 8 voucher holders.  However, in the suburbs, no such law applies.  The Source of Income Campaign is fighting to pass a law that will also make it illegal to discriminate against Section 8 voucher holders in suburban Cook County.  Although Mr. Green has no plans of moving out of Chicago any time soon, he has made this campaign his fight.  His advocacy for this campaign stems from his belief that people shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate regardless of your age, gender, abilities or race, or simply because you use a voucher.  His commitment to this campaign has moved him to spend several hours a week by the train station speaking to fellow Chicagoans about this issue and asking them support their suburban neighbors by signing the petition and calling the Cook County Commissioners to support the ordinance.

If you get off at the red line Roosevelt stop, Mr. Green may ask you to sign the petition to stop the discrimination in the suburbs.  Make sure to sign it, and ask Mr. Green how you can become more involved.

Get the Facts: Section 8 Protections Fact Sheets

Proposal to Amend the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance:
Preventing Source of Income Discrimination

The Problem:

• The Cook County Human Rights Ordinance (CCHRO) currently protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of a person’s source of income (i.e., child support, social security). The CCHRO however specifically exempts from protection persons with “Section 8” Housing Choice Vouchers. Presently housing providers can and do deny qualified households solely because they have a Housing Choice Voucher. Studies have shown that housing providers often refuse to rent to voucher holders as a pretext for other types of illegal discrimination such as race, familial status, and disability.

The Solution:

• The proposed ordinance amendment would include in the protection against source of income discrimination persons with Housing Choice Vouchers. The amendment would not force property owners to rent any or all of their units to any households using Housing Choice Vouchers. Property owners will still have the right to screen applicants.

• The City of Chicago and six other municipalities in Illinois, ten states, the District of Columbia, and ten counties around the country have laws that protect individuals from discrimination based upon the use of a Housing Choice Voucher.

• Voucher holders are some of the most scrutinized tenants and must meet the rigorous admission criteria of the voucher administrator as well as comply with lease provisions. Nearly 40% of voucher recipients are employed and more than 30% are seniors or persons with disabilities. There is absolutely no evidence that persons who use Housing Choice Vouchers to make their housing affordable perpetuate or increase crime in communities.

• Landlord participation in the voucher program is not unduly burdensome. Landlords only have to complete three simple forms. Payments made by the housing authority are made electronically. Units must pass a Housing Quality Standards inspection. Voucher recipients have to complete most of the paperwork.

• By supporting this amendment to the CCHRO, the last remaining type of source of income discrimination in Cook County can finally end.


SOI Talking Points Final

HACC Reply to Lincoln Property Company

Supporters of Source Income Protection for Section 8 Voucher Holders:

Access Living
Bethel New Life
Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation
Chicago Anti Eviction League
Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
Chicago Housing Authority
Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Chicago Urban League
Claretian Associates
Citizen Action Illinois
Connections for the Homeless
Evanston NAACP
Ford Heights Community Service Organization
Healthcare Alternative Systems (HAS)
Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights
HOPE Fair Housing Center
Housing Action Illinois
Housing Authority of the County of Cook
Housing Choice Partners
Housing Opportunity Development Corporation
Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs
Independent Voters of Illinois/ Independent Precinct Organization
Jane Addams Senior Caucus
Jewish Council on Urban Affairs
Jobs with Justice
John Marshall Law School Fair Housing Legal Clinic
Kingdom Community
La Casa Norte
Lakeside Community Development Corporation
Latin United Community Housing Association (LUCHA)
Latino Policy Forum
Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing
League of Women Voters of Cook County
Logan Square Neighborhood Association
Metropolitan Family Services
Metropolitan Tenants Organization
National Fair Housing Alliance
New Directions for Change
Northwest Side Housing Center
Progress Center for Independent Living
Protestants for the Common Good
Respond Now
The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law
SEIU Local 73
South Suburban Housing Center
South Suburban PADS
Spanish Coalition for Housing
Supportive Housing Providers Association
Target Area Development Corporation
United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations
West Suburban PADS
Woodstock Institute

“Subsidized Money Pit” – Chicago Reporter investigates

By: Angela Caputo / January 02, 2012
From the January/February 2012 issue of the Chicago Reporter, Subsidized Housing
Subsidizing failure


Mary Smith was living on a quiet Woodlawn block in 1978 when she got the news that she landed an apartment in one of the neighborhood’s first federally subsidized buildings. At the time, the golden-brick courtyard building at 6134 S. Kimbark Ave. was a bright spot in the neighborhood, which was struggling to regain its footing a decade after a spate of rioting that followed Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968. Smith was just shy of 30 but already knew something about rebuilding herself. After moving from Tennessee, she was adjusting to life as a single mother and a widow in Chicago.

Smith has a round face spotted with freckles and speaks with a lisp. Her voice rises when she talks about her family’s early days on Kimbark. “We were 100 units strong,” she said of her neighbors, some of whom still live on the block. “We were taking care of the place. We were gardening. We were thriving.”

But more than three decades later, the building on the corner of 62nd Street and Kimbark Avenue has become more a symbol of failure than hope.

The heat is chronically cut off in the building. In most units, radiator covers hang half-cocked from the walls so tenants have pulled couches and beds in front of the hot pipes to avoid getting scorched. Some have taken in cats to catch the mice. One elderly woman keeps a cooler in her den to catch the rainwater that pours through gaps in the ceiling that the building’s maintenance crew tried to patch up with a piece of plywood and duct tape.

After barely passing federal inspection standards in recent years, the Kimbark building, along with a handful of other neighboring, federally subsidized buildings owned by the same company, earned a failing score of 43 out of 100 points last year. That was 17 points shy of just scraping by. One more failed inspection, and the government could step in to foreclose on the property. It is also plausible that the property could be sold off and the subsidies lost.

For tenants and housing activists, the problems at Kimbark go deeper than brick and mortar. The decaying building is a symbol of how public officials have looked the other way as landlords throughout Chicago received more than a billion in federal housing subsidies during the past decade while running some of their properties into the ground and, in some cases, using the buildings as their own personal ATMs.

A Chicago Reporter review of federal and local housing records found that 27 out of 194 properties containing more than 24,000 nonsenior federally subsidized housing units in Chicago failed at least one inspection between 2008 and 2010. Of 93 landlords overseeing these properties, 22 have been hauled into housing court by city attorneys who are suing them for at least $304,000 worth of violations since 2005. Two landlords, in particular, were taken to housing court on 22 separate occasions and amassed one-third, or $102,000, of the fines levied against property owners during that period.

Few people have worked with as many troubled Section 8 buildings as Shirley Johnson, the organizing director of the Chicago-based Metropolitan Tenants Organization. In her eyes, federal and local housing officials are doing too little to hit landlords where it hurts: the pocketbook. “They slap ’em on the hand, and they’re right back in the game,” Johnson said.

Johnson added that tenants should have a seat at the negotiating table. “Safe and decent housing—that’s all the tenants want,” she said. “They don’t care who is the owner or the manager. They just want them to be accountable.”

But officials said that, with affordable housing in increasingly short supply, a hard-nosed approach isn’t always the best way to fix troubled buildings. “We really do look at preservation as our main focus,” said Ed Hinsberger, director of the Chicago multifamily hub at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, who oversees subsidized multifamily buildings in Chicago.

Preserving the subsidies, Hinsberger said, means striking a delicate balance between holding building owners and managers accountable in the short term without leaning so hard that they decide to opt out of the program and sell the properties on the private market. “We try and figure out how to save a project, but it’s hard,” he said. “We don’t own it. We don’t control it. We can’t decide who it will go to. That’s beyond our authority.”

Still, critics said, the status quo that is tolerating too many substandard housing units must not be an option for HUD. That’s especially true, they said, considering that, with the widespread demolition of traditional public housing, the subsidized apartments represent the last bastion of stable housing for low-income families. More nonsenior apartments now exist in the 194 subsidized properties than those operated by the Chicago Housing Authority.

Jim Grow, an attorney with the National Housing Law Project, said poor performing owners and managers will have little incentive to improve until HUD takes a “more nuisanced approach” to dealing with troubled buildings. “You have to have a monitoring system that’s up for the task,” Grow said. “It’s a failure of the regulatory system to provide the money and not the quality.”

*     *     *

When Congress struck a deal in the early 1970s to begin pouring billions of dollars each year into subsidized housing, a group of young Chicago developers with an eye on rebuilding troubled neighborhoods began snapping up investments. Under the Section 8 agreements, they were guaranteed market-rate rents for up to 30 years. In exchange, they had to provide decent, safe housing for cash-strapped households.

The units are rented out on a first-come, first-served basis. To remain compliant, the landlords are required to submit annual financial reports and pass federal inspections, assessed on the safety and cleanliness of each property.

Experts point out that inspection scores are weighted, and common areas—like lobbies and grounds—can artificially boost scores or unfairly drag them down. Despite the limits, the inspections are one of the few benchmarks for measuring success. Until this fall, if landlords scored below 60 two years in a row, HUD had the power to push them into foreclosure. Under the new guideline, scoring between 30 and 59 puts the owners under increased scrutiny.

The Reporter analysis of federal data found that 30 of the 199 inspections recorded between 2008 and 2010 found failing conditions in Chicago, and 43 led to a score that was within five points of failing. This marked a nearly threefold increase in failing scores compared with the three prior years, when slightly more inspections were logged. While those scores should have raised red flags, HUD’s response has been lax. In 2009, for example, only two of the nine properties due for reinspection because of initial failing scores were scored that year.

HUD’s Hinsberger said he isn’t convinced that the failed inspections are the most accurate way of determining trends or even the overall health of Chicago’s portfolio. Some years, there are few inspections, he said, because budgets are tight. “Those inspections cost money,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t have the funds.”

Still, Grow said, officials could do more to bring troubled properties in line. HUD officials rarely put a financial squeeze on owners by gradually reducing subsidies to low-performing buildings, he said. And the agency should have a better policy for reviewing which owners are borrowing against their buildings. “Why should somebody be able to refinance and take out money without at least 70 [on their scores]?” Grow said.

Indeed, five out of 15 Chicago properties that have failed at least one federal inspection since 2008 were remortgaged within six years prior to failed inspection, a Reporter review of real estate records found.

“The system is set up so that the property is seen as a commodity, and the living conditions for residents are seen as secondary,” said Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle, a community organizer with Southside Together Organizing for Power, a nonprofit that has been working with tenants for years to improve conditions in a series of Section 8 buildings on the city’s South Side.

With many of the contracts coming to an end, the properties have become much more susceptible to forces in the private real estate market. Roughly a decade ago, Kevin Jackson, executive director at the Chicago Rehab Network, began sounding the alarm that Chicago was facing an “invisible crisis” as the subsidies tied to roughly 21,000 units were scheduled to expire between 2000 and 2005. When the real estate market took a nose dive, Jackson said, landlords began rethinking the value of the guaranteed subsidies and have shown “a heightened interest” in extending their contracts.

As far as Johnson of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization is concerned, if landlords want the guarantees that come along with extensions—including up to nearly $290 million in rents for 2011 alone—federal officials should be pushing harder for building improvements. “HUD has a lot of leverage,” she said. “That’s where these landlords are getting their rent.”

City attorneys, meanwhile, have stepped up enforcement on troubled Section 8 buildings in recent years, citing the owners for violations by hauling some of them into housing court.

The bottom line, said former Chicago Department of Housing Commissioner Jack Markowski, who is now president of the Community Investment Corporation, which controls a fund that helps stabilize troubled buildings including Section 8 properties, is that “the city often has used code enforcement as a way to go after bad management.”

At least 31 properties have been sued by the city in housing court since 2005. A vast majority, or 75 percent, of the cases were filed between 2008 and 2011. Some of the cases involve fairly minor violations, such as doing construction without a permit and painting over electrical switches. Others are more serious. They include structurally unsound porches, missing smoke detectors and no heat or hot water in winter.

More than one-third of the housing court cases involve just two companies—East Lake Management and Development Corporation and the Woodlawn Redevelopment Corp. No. 2—which have racked up a combined $102,000 in fines. The number of fines attributed to East Lake, which is run by Elzie Higginbottom, is in part because the company oversees more Section 8 units—3,094 apartments in all—than any other entity. The company also manages a wide portfolio, which, like the Woodlawn Redevelopment Corp. No. 2’s parent company, includes Chicago Housing Authority properties.

Eileen Rhodes, vice president at East Lake, pointed out that the management company’s buildings have been given few failing scores on federal inspections—three in 78 inspections—in the past decade. “I think that the [federal inspections] are an indicator that the properties are in good shape,” she said.

Ironically, some of those troubled buildings surpassed expectations when it came to federal inspections. The Woodlawn Redevelopment Corp. No. 2, for example, was given a passing grade in 2009 at the same time it was being sued by the city for building code violations that included rodent infestation, mold and standing sewage.

*     *     *

The three-story building at 6134 S. Kimbark Ave. doesn’t look like much from the curb. Its golden-brick facade is dulled by the fine lines of age. A black wrought-iron fence rings a lawn that’s spotted with ashy patches of dirt.

The initial federal investment in the property—HUD had agreed to lock into 30 years of rent subsidies in 1974—was a sign that redevelopment was possible in the struggling Woodlawn community. For a young community organizer, Leon Finney Jr., the federal money was like a down payment on a local development initiative he called “The Dream Plan.”

Finney grew up in the neighborhood and was a rising star in the scrappy nonprofit, The Woodlawn Organization. With the community organizing skills imparted on him by the famed Saul Alinsky, his goal was to channel his neighbors’ desires—for decent housing and jobs—into action. That was The Dream Plan. And housing was key.

More than 30 years after the Section 8 program began, no section of the city was eligible for more rent subsidies last year than 60637, the ZIP code that includes Woodlawn and neighboring Washington Park. More than one in every $10 committed to Section 8 rents went to the 3,126 apartments in the area roughly bounded by State Street, Lake Shore Drive, and 51st and 73rd streets.

No Section 8 property has faced more recent scrutiny for how it has been managed than the Kimbark buildings, which are owned by the Woodlawn Redevelopment Corp. No. 2, an entity set up by Finney, and managed by the Woodlawn Community Development Corp., which oversees 902 Section 8 units throughout the city.

In late November, the city filed two fresh lawsuits against the nonprofit because the heat wasn’t working consistently for three weeks. Since 2008, the city has initiated eight additional legal cases concerning the cluster of buildings, which is anchored by the Kimbark building. All told, the city has sued the Woodlawn Redevelopment Corp. No. 2 for $57,755 in fines related to the Kimbark portfolio since 2008. The nonprofit faces another $140,685 in housing court fines for a string of unrelated, but troubled, rental buildings that are in foreclosure.

In December, city officials signaled that they were fed up with the ongoing disrepair at Kimbark. The Woodlawn Redevelopment Corp. No. 2 was added to a list of “building code scofflaws” who have failed to address scores of code violations in the past year. Finney has pledged to get his organization’s name removed from the list to avoid losing city contracts.

“In most other jurisdictions, HUD would have said, ‘You’re done,’” said Kate Walz, housing justice director at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. Walz has represented the Kimbark Tenants Association, which is co-chaired by Smith, in court in the past couple of years. “Chicago’s HUD office is looking at preservation. Otherwise, only tenants will suffer.”

A Reporter review of the management company’s financial records found that the building’s poor conditions have only been exacerbated by the nonprofit’s financial practices. In 2006, the property was refinanced, but few needed repairs were made with the money. Then, in 2009, more than $163,000 was transferred out of the property to cover unrelated expenses including payroll and bank overdrafts, the records show. The next year, federal inspectors found the buildings in such disrepair that they were given a failing score.

Finney rejected that the conditions at Kimbark are a reflection on his nonprofit’s property management skills. “Are you going to define me by that one property?” he said. “I have been there and done whatever needed to be done to make life well and function for not only them but for literally thousands of other people. So I just reject the idea of that.”

HUD has “some financial concerns” about how Kimbark and some other Section 8 properties are being managed by the Woodlawn Community Development Corp., according to Hinsberger. The agency has chided Finney in recent years for dipping into restricted housing subsidies to cover payroll and other expenses—some of which are tied to its sister agency, The Woodlawn Organization, independent audit reports show.

But it’s translated into little change for tenants who have learned to live with the substandard conditions.

For the second time in four years, Finney is attempting to sell the property, and he’s close to sealing the deal. If this deal goes through, the federal subsidy will be extended until 2029. Cullen Davis, whose company, Urban Property Investments, manages a series of other Section 8 properties, along with a partner, is expected to take the property over in January. The Illinois Housing Development Authority has approved $10 million in tax credits to begin rehabbing the Kimbark building. That’s money that the Woodlawn Redevelopment Corp. was not eligible for because of its poor property management track record.

The hope is that the new owners will do a better job at managing the federal subsidies, which should pump up to nearly $1.3 million in rents into the 100-unit development next year. Poor conditions have led to vacancies, though. About one-third of the 100 units sit empty.

The way Smith sees it, she’s faced with two bad choices: Stay at Kimbark and hope conditions improve under the new ownership or live with the chaos.

“I don’t want to leave this community,” said Smith, now 62 and retired. “I want to have a place where my kids can come back to and say, ‘I grew up here,’ so they feel like they have some roots.”

Emily Gowing and Sachiko Yoshitsugu helped research this article.  

Original article

Photo: Mary Smith flips through her datebook, recalling a three-week period in the fall when the heat in her Woodlawn apartment building wasn’t working because of a broken boiler. Photo by Marc Monaghan.