By Harry Huggins
January 20, 2016 for Medill News Service
The leadership of the Chicago Housing Authority approved a new voucher program for homeless families, as well as actions to expand the agency’s public housing stock during its first board meeting Tuesday. After the board announced a $10,000 bonus for new acting Chief Executive Officer, Eugene Jones Jr., CHA residents voiced their support for the man who took charge of the troubled agency last year in June.
“He’s done something to strike a chord with us residents,” said Jacqueline Paige, who holds a government subsidized housing voucher. “[Residents] used to come in here cussing and fussing. The fact that they’re not calling for his head says a lot.”
Tamika Holt addressed Jones Jr. directly, saying, “I do see you as a leader, you’ve got some things done. I’m glad to have you aboard, and I look forward to the fights, because I know we’re going to have some.”
Paul McKinley, another Housing Choice Voucher resident, complimented the new subsidized housing program that will set aside 50 units for homeless families.
“I would like to thank you all for the new breath of air at the CHA,” McKinley said. “It’s truly marvelous that you have given the people hope.”
In what amounted to CHA progress report, Jones Jr. laid out his vision for 2016, including the citywide Year of the Youth campaign. Highlights of that campaign included a program connecting CHA employees as mentors to elementary school students living in CHA properties, as well as $178 million earmarked for 700 new affordable housing units this year.
Jones Jr. mentioned his concern about the treatment of elderly CHA residents. He told a story about a man sitting next to him at the Martin Luther King Jr. Interfaith Breakfast Friday, who ate two to three servings of every course he was served.
Jones Jr. said he could only assume the man was hungry “and this is going to be his only meal for the day. I’m not saying we’re not doing enough, but we need to do more, because our elderly are not being served in the right way.”
John Hooker, chairman of the CHA board, announced Jones Jr.’s bonus midway through the meeting, citing his “profound leadership” since he arrived seven months ago. Hooker lauded the acting CEO’s success in boosting employee morale and “unclogging the development pipeline” for new CHA housing.
“We are intent on keeping him here for a very long time,” Hooker said.
Residents did criticize some CHA programs, including the entrepreneurship partnership with the Chicago Urban League. Marilyn Scott, owner of Cobblestone Bakery and Catering, called the program a “total failure.” Hooker said the board is looking into the Urban League program after residents mentioned issues at the last two board meetings.
Despite past issues with CEO leadership, the overall mood of CHA residents is still hopeful.
“Him as a man, I support,” Paige said about Jones Jr., “but it’s the institution of housing that keeps me doubtful.”