Chicago housing agency sitting on millions while many remain homeless

by 19 Mar 2015
By Meghan de St. Aubin

While thousands sit on The Chicago Housing Authority’s (CHA) waitlist for affordable housing, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s housing agency has used the funds for other things, including boosting the agency's pension, purchase government debt and build up a cash reserve.

The waitlist tops 280,000, which is a sizable portion of Chicago’s population. About 15,900 families on the list are reported to be homeless, according to The CHA. Meanwhile, the housing agency's reserves began reaching sizable proportions early in Emanuel’s term.

In 2011 and 2012, the CHA poured more than $55 million into its pension fund. Due to the agency receiving more money than what it was spending, the reserves remained at an all-time high level. In 2012, debts were paid early and millions were pumped into state and local bonds, according to The Huffington Post. At the end of 2013, the agency was still sitting on at least $440 million, according to its most recent audited financial report.

CHA spokeswoman Wendy Parks stated that federal rules allow the agency to maintain some reserves, which she said the CHA plans to utilize by finishing the development of 25,000 new units of housing.

"The increase in reserves was driven by the significant downturn in the real estate market that slowed the expenditure rate of funds," Parks said, then explained that pension contribution and bond purchase helps the agency save money on interest payments and overall, saves money in the future.

The stockpile was initially reported by the Chicago Housing Initiative and The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. The later produced a report and lead to a plethora of media attention. Both organizations obtained public record documents that stated that under Emanuel’s administration, the CHA has become an investment fund rather than a housing agency.

The CHA released another statement to The Huffington Post, reiterating the supply of money was a result of the real estate downtown, while also saying the CHA had plans to spend more money in the upcoming year.


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