Chicago Crusader staff report
Housing and police accountability activists on May 3 demonstrated outside a ritzy development just off Michigan Avenue, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel held his first fundraiser since the release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
Protesters voiced their anger about Emanuel’s handling of the Chicago Housing Authority. They said the mayor’s treatment of the housing agency is similar to his handling of the Chicago Police Department. Overall, activists said they are fed up with the mayor’s devaluation of Black life in the city.
With his long-term future political ambitions at stake, Emanuel needs funds to boost his depleted campaign war chest. After spending a record $24 million to survive Chicago’s first-ever mayoral runoff in 2015, Emanuel seeks to replenish his campaign war chest with the fundraiser. At the event, he requested contributions of $10,000 from corporations and $5,400 from individuals.
Held at the Gold Coast home of real estate developer Robert Wislow, chairman of CBRE-U.S. Equities, the fundraiser drew about 30 protesters from the Chicago Housing Initiative (CHI), a citywide public housing coalition. They were joined by youth from the Black Lives Matter movement. The organizations have linked the shooting of McDonald and subsequent cover-ups within the Chicago Police Department to the systemic problems of the CHA.
Activists and community leaders are angry that the CHA is sitting on a $430 million cash surplus while 122,000 poor families languish on the agency’s waiting lists for a place to live.
Amidst heavy police presence outside the fundraiser, housing activists who organized the demonstration are concerned that Chicago’s public housing may be the mayor’s next scandal.
Activists are demanding reform through the passage of the “Keeping the Promise” ordinance. They say that a change in leadership at the top of the CHA would not be enough to overhaul the policies and practices within the beleaguered housing agency. Since Emanuel took office in 2011, there has been five CEOs at the CHA.
In a press conference before the protest, Haroon Garel, an organizer with CHI and Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP) said, “The way Mayor Emanuel has handled both the Chicago Police Department and the Chicago Housing Authority shows just how little Rahm Emanuel values Black life. Here, we have nearly half a billion dollars just sitting in the CHA’s bank account, which is supposed to help the city’s poorest residents, but instead is being stockpiled to serve investors and developers like the man hosting Rahm’s fundraiser tonight. It’s no accident that the people whose needs are being neglected are predominantly Black and brown. It’s families like these within Rahm’s Chicago whose lives don’t count, and whose deaths don’t count.”
Since Emanuel’s term in office, housing activists have been drawing attention to problems with the mayor’s oversight of the CHA, which is currently withholding 6,000 available housing vouchers. Some 2,800 public housing units remain vacant and activists fear that many will be demolished.
Housing advocates are pushing for an ordinance by the Chicago City Council to ensure public funds intended for poor families are used appropriately. They also seek to protect the city’s remaining public housing developments from demolition. Titled “Keeping the Promise,” the proposed ordinance would give the City Council substantial new oversight authority over city funds awarded to the CHA.
The intent of the ordinance is to improve CHA’s transparency, accountability and performance by requiring the CHA to report to the City Council Committee on Housing and Real Estate about available resources and progress delivering housing.
If adopted, the ordinance will also establish new city policies requiring one-for-one replacement of all currently standing public housing units in future CHA redevelopments. In addition, the ordinance will place restrictions on further sales and swap of public housing land by CHA until the agency produces a plan showing where it will rebuild what was promised under the Plan for Transformation—the largest, most ambitious redevelopment effort of public housing in country.
The ordinance is co-sponsored by 25 aldermen and has the backing of nearly 40 diverse community-based organizations, government groups and fair housing advocacy centers. It was first introduced in 2014.
Despite an 11-hour hearing with the Housing Committee held at City Hall on February 17, no vote on the ordinance has been scheduled.