Obama and Daley's Public Housing Plan

[This is the final article in a series that includes "Obama and South Chicago Slum Developers" here, and "Obama's Friends and Chicago's New Slums" here.]

"I hope there is not much predictive value in his (Obama's) history and in his involvement with that (the public housing developers community." (Boston Globe quoting Jamie Kalven, "longtime Chicago housing activist," June 27, 2008)
When faced with the choice of supporting his well-connected developer friends making millions in Chicago's Plan for Transformation, or his district's poorest public housing residents, the former community organizer was an expedient politician. He followed the money.

When Obama aligned with Mayor Daley's plan to redesign public housing, he linked to a story that's eighty years old, and shows no signs of dying.  It merits a brief review. 

From the New Deal to the Plan for Transformation

In 1937, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) became the municipal corporation that administered the city's public housing. Its first project, Cabrini-Green, was built the year Barack Obama's mother, Anne Durham, was born, 1942.  The huge Robert Taylor Homes complex was completed in 1962, the year after Barack Obama was born.  Obama was five years old when an on-going controversy concerning the CHA began. It would eventually influence his political fortunes.

In 1966, in Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority, Dorothy Gautreaux and a group of African-American CHA residents filed suits against the CHA and the Secretary of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) claiming that the CHA, with HUD support, violated the equal protection clause and Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by locating all its public housing properties in African-American communities. The case would move in-and-out of the courts for the next thirty years.

In 1987, U.S. District Judge Marvin Aspen appointed the Habitat Corp. to oversee new CHA construction to assure the housing was integrated. Today, Barack Obama's senior advisor, Valerie Jarrett, is CEO of Habitat. 

In 1997, the case ended when a complicated formula was satisfied whereby construction of housing in "limited areas" (where more than 30 percent of residents were "people of color") equaled that within "general areas" (where less than 30 percent were "people of color").  When 7,100 housing units were built in "general areas," the obligations of the consent decree against HUD terminated. 

Then, in 1999, Chicago launched its Plan for Transformation -- the biggest project for reconstruction of public housing in the history of the United States. The old New Deal approach had failed, miserably. The new plan would fix things...so went the promise.

A 2004 study by the Center for Urban Research and Policy, Columbia University, captured the scope of the project. Here are excerpts (highlights added) from its Executive Summary.

The City of Chicago has been a proving ground in the national movement for public housing reform. Across the city, public housing developments are being demolished and families are being relocated to new homes in new communities. The goals are to transform the lives of public housing residents and to rebuild healthy communities where distressed public housing once stood. The experiences of family relocation and resettlement in Chicago have informed other cities facing similar challenges, making Chicago the national model for large-scale public housing transformation.

... The Chicago Housing Authority's (CHA, hereafter) Plan for Transformation, launched in 1999 seeks to accomplish several goals over a ten-year period. The CHA aims to destroy 18,000 "severely distressed" housing units and help thousands of public housing families become employed, independent citizens. Its relocation efforts promise to integrate them into the wider city; and, its redevelopment strategy promises to rebuild the lands into "mixed-income" tracts suitable for both public housing and private market families. It is a grand vision for a public housing authority and it is a historically novel role for city, state, and federal governments.

The term "mixed income" should have been a clue of what would happen to many of the CHA's poorest residents. When the Columbia researchers evaluated the progress of the plan, they found that "CHA families relocated from public housing in 2003 continued to move to predominantly African-American, poor communities in Chicago."

Here's an overview from cruising altitude: Old, vertical high-rises are coming down and being replaced by horizontal complexes renovated, built and managed by private sector entities. "Mixed income" residents are the targeted clientele. A portion of the units are reserved for the lowest income CHA residents eligible to move back into renovated or new units (usually after lengthy delays). But many more will have no place to which to return.

Last July, the Chicago Tribune calculated the emerging problem.

Under the Plan for Transformation, the city has lost more than 13,000 housing units for the poor at a time when low-income families face one of the worse housing crises in recent history. After years of neglect and abandonment, many residents doubt that Jarrett [Habitat CEO] and CHA officials have their interests at heart.

So, was the permanent removal of many of the poorest residents from CHA properties a goal from the start? Or, just an unintended consequence? Answer: It had to be part of the plan.

Last July, the Tribune reported on the status of the Plan for Transformation.

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.

Back when Mayor Daley officially kicked off the project in February 2000, he promised 25,000 new housing units for the poor, saying,

"Today is the beginning of a new chapter in the history of public housing in Chicago. We will end the failed policies of the past that have led to the desperate and unacceptable conditions of public housing today." (Tribune, July 7, 2008)

So failed policies of the past gave way to failing policies of the present. Perhaps the premise of government housing should have been reexamined first.

What Residents of Grove Parc in Obama's Former District Say

Grove Parc Plaza is in Obama's former Illinois Senate District. Residents of the 504-units in the subsidized housing complex are fighting to save what's left of their homes. About one-fifth of the units are uninhabitable. In 2006, HUD inspectors gave the property a score of 11 on a 100-point scale. Habitat Corp. was the property manager. 


Grove Parc residents organized to fight a decision to tear down the complex, which would displace about 400 families. (See their website here, and photos of the complex here.)  When told they'd receive vouchers to use for other housing, they were not pacified. Many landlords won't accept the vouchers, and, if the new landlord fails an inspection, they'd have to move yet again. 

So how come vouchers are fine, to most Democrat politicians, for public housing alternatives, but not for public education alternatives?

On November 19, 2007, a group of Grove Parc residents gathered in front of Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago intending to speak with HUD officials. Watch the six minutes video here. Lonnie Richardson (incorrectly identified as "Richard" in the video) is President of the Grove Parc Plaza Tenant's Association.  He offers a three-minute (2:34-5:20) explanation of the residents' position. He mentions "Allison Davis," Obama's friend, contributor and former boss, as one of the rich developers forcing people out of their homes. 

The woman who speaks first in the video blames "racism and white supremacy." Does she know that the CEO of Habitat Corp. and Allison Davis are African-Americans and close friends and supporters of her former state senator? Or, that State Senator Obama co-sponsored Illinois Senate Bill1135 (with a Republican co-sponsor) that enables state-designated developers to raise up to $26 million a year by selling tax credits to Illinois residents?

HUD eventually agreed to remove Habitat Corp. as the complex's management company and install a Boston-based firm, Preservation of Affordable Housing, chosen by the residents. (Could that explain how the Boston Globe came to take such an interest in Grove Parc and the public housing mess in Chicago?)

Richardson is interviewed (4.31 minutes) on National Public Radio here (preceded by a short ad). When asked if he assigns any responsibility to Obama, Richardson said that "private developers are connected with both parties." An accurate statement, but not an answer to the question.

It seems that the public housing residents of South Chicago who are most angry about how Daley's Plan for Transformation is disrupting their lives assign no complicity to former State Senator Obama.  In part, it's because he deftly navigated the narrow and politically dangerous channel between them and his developer friends.

Obama and the "Pinstripe Patronage" System

In Chicago politics, pinstripe patronage refers to a political payback system where instead of rewarding voter loyalty with city jobs, significant campaign contributors receive government contracts. It's a by-product of the age of big media. Obama learned about pinstripe patronage as an attorney at Davis Miner Barnhill & Galland, as a July 21, 2008 article by Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker, entitled "Making It: How Chicago shaped Obama," documents.

E. J. Dionne, Jr., of the Washington Post, wrote about this transition in a 1999 column after Daley was reëlected. Dionne wrote about a young Barack Obama, who artfully explained how the new pinstripe patronage worked: a politician rewards the law firms, developers, and brokerage houses with contracts, and in return they pay for the new ad campaigns necessary for reëlection. "They do well, and you get a $5 million to $10 million war chest," Obama told Dionne. It was a classic Obamaism: superficially critical of some unseemly aspect of the political process without necessarily forswearing the practice itself. Obama was learning that one of the greatest skills a politician can possess is candor about the dirty work it takes to get and stay elected.  At the time, Obama was growing closer to Tony Rezko, who eventually turned pinstripe patronage into an extremely lucrative way of life.

Despite the element of corruption indigenous to the pinstripe patronage that became part of executing Daley's Plan for Transformation, back in 1999 Obama glossed over the approach, seemingly endorsing it.

Shortly after becoming a state senator in 1997, Obama told the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin that his experience working with the development industry had reinforced his belief in subsidizing private developers of affordable housing.

"That's an example of a smart policy," the paper quoted Obama as saying. "The developers were thinking in market terms and operating under the rules of the marketplace; but at the same time, we had government supporting and subsidizing those efforts."

So pinstripe patronage represents the "rules of the marketplace?" What marketplace? In what country? That operates under what economic system? And what makes it a "smart" policy?

In Obamaland, getting and staying elected is about raising money, making promises and rewarding patrons. His linguistic style emerged back on September 26, 1999, with he said at a campaign kickoff,

"Nobody sent me.  I'm not part of some long standing political organization. I have no fancy sponsors. I'm not even from Chicago. My name is Obama. Despite that fact, somebody sent me...the men on the corner in Woodlawn drowning their sorrows in alcohol...the women working two jobs...they're all telling me we can't wait."  (emphasis added)

Does this sound familiar nearly ten years later?  Including the prolepsis to his frequent citation today of Martin Luther King's "fierce urgency of now?"

Barack Obama never changes anything. He's most adept at getting elected. Then he runs for a higher office on a new promise of change, without having changed much of anything in the old.

In the meantime, Chicago adopts a new scheme to feed the social concept of entitlement by keeping some of its citizens dependent on the largess of government -- city, state and federal -- for their housing needs. And when, in the case of the Stateway project (see here), progress stalls, Obama's senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, a likely candidate for Secretary of HUD in an Obama administration, says,

"I don't think it's constructive to look backward and say it's a mistake. It was a very good idea that didn't come to fruition."   

Which would be like the President of the White Star Line saying that it's not constructive to examine the causes for the sinking of the Titanic, since its hull design was a very good idea at the time that just didn't come to fruition, when she hit the iceberg.   

{Hat tip: Sun Times reporter Tim Novak, and Tribune reporters Jason Grotto, Laurie Cohen and Sarah Olkon, skilled professionals all]
If you experience technical problems, please write to helpdesk@americanthinker.com