Mayor picks new CHA chief

October 16, 2013

Michael Merchant

A day after the resignation of the Chicago Housing Authority CEO, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has announced his new pick.

Nominee Michael Merchant, a lawyer, has been the commissioner of the city Department of Buildings since 2011. He has served in former mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration and Chicago Public Schools in intergovernmental affairs roles.  Merchant has also worked for the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development.

“Mike is the best type of public servant,” Emanuel said in a statement. “He is selfless and devoted, he is attentive to detail and ambitious in his thinking. I have been impressed with his leadership at the department of buildings and I look forward to working with him as CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority. I believe Mike will do wonderful things in that role and will help many of Chicago’s families on their path to economic stability.”

CEO Charles Woodyard resigned Tuesday without a new job and giving boilerplate language in a statement about wanting to spend more time with his family. CHA had said its board and the mayor’s office were preparing a national search for Woodyard’s replacement. Woodyard’s last day is Nov. 1.

CHA is two years from supposedly finishing its massive $1.6 billion Plan for Transformation – the blueprint for tearing down public housing and replacing some developments with mixed-income communities. Emanuel served on the CHA board as the Plan, the largest public works housing initiative in the country, was being written.

The economy and fickle housing market have slowed down the Plan especially for selling market-rate units. Meanwhile, CHA promised it would rehabilitate or redevelop 25,000 units for public housing families. For fiscal year 2014, CHA plans to deliver 562 public housing units, but none of them will be on mixed-income sites. Originally, the Plan for Transformation was a five-year plan. Today, it’s supposed to be completed by 2015. That would mean the CHA would have to deliver a whopping 7,000 units by then.

Merchant will be leading Plan Forward, the second phase of the original plan. It focuses on acquiring homes in neighborhoods across the city for rehab and boosting economic activity around CHA sites. That strategy has been slow.

“I look forward to the challenges of this new role,” Merchant said in a statement. “I believe that we will be able to advance the mission of the Chicago Housing Authority and provide a better future for many of Chicago’s most vulnerable residents, and I look forward to working with the mayor and the other leaders in the city to accomplish these goals.”

The CHA board of commissioners will meet later this month to consider the candidacy.

Natalie Moore is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her @natalieymoore.