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Money for Housing

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To the editors:

While I appreciated the opportunity to speak with reporter Ben Joravsky concerning his feature in Neighborhood News ("Give us shelter: activists press city with a billion-dollar housing initiative," September 3), I believe that the resulting story may have left some misimpressions in the minds of your readers.

In my judgment the dedication of resources in the magnitude of $200 million annually to housing programs would have to come at the expense of other city programs or our taxpayers. However, it is not only possible, but more than probable, that the city will have incremental dollars for housing in future years. This money will be raised by accessing new sources of housing dollars (including federal funds and many of the mechanisms suggested by the proponents of the "housing/jobs" ordinance), and by demonstrating our ability to employ the funds which are awarded to us expeditiously and wisely.

The Department of Housing's inability to employ $23,000,000 of federal HOME Investment Partnership Program funds allocated to the city in 1992 was not, as Mr. Joravsky states, because we "couldn't process the forms in time." In point of fact, all of our forms were processed. However, despite streamlining initiatives, training programs, and a substantial increase in staff dedicated to underwriting loans to developers of affordable housing--which led to a threefold increase in the number of dollars committed in 1992--we haven't yet found a way to process applications which aren't in a state of readiness to be processed. Fortunately, HOME regulations allow 24 months for dollars to be committed; all of the unused 1992 HOME funds were able to be used this year, when applications were sufficiently complete that financing could be approved.

Last year the city did provide financing for the creation or preservation of over 8,000 units of affordable housing. Fewer than 100 (not several hundred) of these units were part of our New Homes for Chicago program, a middle-income initiative which receives only modest funding (less than $1,000,000 in the current budget year), and relies heavily on private-sector participation.

I'm not sure what Mr. Hunt is referring to when he claims the department is looking for the best return on our investment, but the best return I can hope for is that we use our funds in a manner which stimulates the development of as many units of housing, affordable to residents across the entire income spectrum of those who require financial subsidies, as we possibly can. If I were expected to operate this department to make money and not for social purposes, I would have been fired a year ago.

The Chicago Rehab Network has yet to approach me seeking support for their ordinance, although Mr. Hunt and I did once discuss its pros and cons. For months I've expressed a willingness to continue this discussion; other members of the administration have now done the same. It's difficult to compromise with those who are reluctant to talk.

Marina Carrott

Commissioner

Department of Housing

Ben Joravsky replies:

Carrott says the Housing Department failed to spend $23 million in federal housing funds last year because "we haven't yet found a way to process applications which aren't in a state of readiness to be processed." In fact, about $60 million in unprocessed applications sat around her department for the better part of the year, according to Housing Department records. Five different not-for-profit housing groups say the city failed to act on their applications in any way--not even to say that they were improperly filed. David Hunt, executive director of the Chicago Rehab Network, blames the delays on staff turnover in the Housing Department.

Carrott says the city provided funding for the creation or preservation of more than 8,000 units of affordable housing. That figure includes 3,300 units that were outfitted with storm doors and windows and roughly 1,000 units in which handrails or ramps were installed, according to Housing Department statistics. While these improvements are commendable, they don't add to the total number of units created or preserved.

Carrott says I inflated the number of units involved in the New Homes program. I used the number I got from my interview with her. If I misheard her, I apologize.

Finally, Carrott says that the Rehab Network has yet to approach her, but Hunt says that on several occasions she has rejected his offers for a meeting. "We've sought her support for months," says Hunt, "but she refuses to meet with any group that includes me." Alderman Arenda Troutman, vice chairman of the City Council's Housing Committee, agrees: "David's right. A few weeks ago I tried to set up a meeting, and Carrott told me she would meet with me but she wouldn't attend any meeting with David."

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