Mayor Rahm Emanuel has tapped the former head of the Charlotte, N.C., public housing agency to lead the Chicago Housing Authority.
Charles Woodyard has been at the helm in Charlotte since 2002. Similar to Chicago, that city has been tearing down traditional public housing to construct mixed-income developments with retail components.
“He developed programs to encourage the private sector to invest in public housing. That is exactly the type of background I want here for the city of Chicago, to take us to stage two in the Plan for Transformation,” Emanuel said. The mayor made the announcement Thursday at the former Cabrini-Green development, which is a mix of public, affordable and market-rate housing on the city’s Near North Side.
Woodyard said he has to get up to speed on Chicago’s unique housing issues.
“My philosophy is then is that of a community builder. My goal is to transform communities and transform families into strong building blocks for a great city. My hope is that Chicago and the Chicago Housing Authority can do this in partnership,” Woodyard said.
Malachai Greene is a former city council member in Charlotte who worked with Woodyard
“You guys stole him,” Greene said, laughing. He said Woodyard “changed the nature of public housing in Charlotte.”
“We got away from the old-fashioned housing poor people, to creating communities where people can develop some real opportunities. We’ve moved into a good direction,” Greene said.
Woodyard and the Charlotte Housing Authority ran into at least one hiccup in trying to diversify public housing. Last year, an upscale Charlotte neighborhood balked at a proposed public housing development. The housing authority eventually scrapped that particular project.
Emanuel and Woodyard were short on details about the vision for CHA at Thursday’s press conference. The agency is in year 11 of its massive, billion-dollar Plan for Transformation – the blueprint for tearing down public housing. Emanuel served on the CHA board as the plan was being written. It’s the largest public works housing initiative in the country.
“We’re not going to reverse course. This has been much different public housing; it’s building off the success that you literally see around you,” Emanuel said. “It’s going to take it to the next stage—knowing full well that plan was developed with one type of real estate market. We’re in a different market so we have to think through and think anew,” Emanuel said.
The Plan for Transformation has five years to go. The tanking economy has slowed down housing sales for higher-income units. Emanuel said the MacArthur Foundation will be helping CHA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recalibrate the Plan for Transformation and decide what’s next for public housing in the city.
Cabrini resident Joseph Peery said he is disappointed that neither the mayor nor Woodyard have specifically identified their positions on public housing and the impact on residents.
“I’m hearing what’s good for business,” Peery said. “I want to hear what’s good for residents.”
Peery said there often isn’t equity in how public housing residents are treated in comparison to higher-income households in mixed-income communities.
Since its inception, the Plan for Transformation has been controversial. Lingering issues include the displacement of some public housing residents and how remaining developments will be rehabbed or refashioned. Many low-income residents say CHA has preserved too few public housing units.
Lewis Jordan, the previous CHA CEO, resigned this summer amid questions around agency credit card use.