WBEZ brings you fact-based news and information. Sign up for our newsletters to stay up to date on the stories that matter.Chicago’s billion-dollar Plan for Transformation has replaced clustered public housing high rises with mixed-income developments. The plan has also rehabbed low rises. Thousands of former Chicago housing residents have yet to claim their place in these public housing developments. Critics fault CHA for not doing enough to find and relocate these former tenants. CHA hired a private firm to assist in locating residents.
The Chicago Housing Authority started overhauling its crumbling portfolio more than a decade ago.
Residents who lived in public housing at that time are known as “10-1-99” leaseholders – a nod to the launching date of the Plan for Transformation. Some 16,000 residents were affected by the changes.
Two years ago CHA contracted with a Chicago-based firm called Globetrotters to search for missing residents, and to let them know they can return to CHA’s redeveloped properties.
KAISER: We came to the conclusion that we should hire someone to help us because we have a lot of projects ongoing and we needed someone to focus on it solely.
Linda Kaiser is in charge of resident services at CHA.
KAISER: A lot of time had gone by basically since the beginning of the plan and we want to make sure that everyone who had a right of return could.
Globetrotters is getting paid $744,000 to find missing residents. In June their contract was extended. Now the total is $900,000.
The firm specializes in engineering and property management and is doing some other tasks for CHA. To track down residents, Globetrotters has used legal notices, certified mail and databases.
CHA’s Kaiser says the firm has found almost 4,000 new addresses.
KAISER: I believe the project was really successful.
That’s not how Sudhir Venkatesh sees it.
VENKATESH: Globetrotters has absolutely no experience and has done one of the worse jobs you can imagine.
Venkatesh is a professor at Columbia University and has long researched Chicago’s public housing. Venkatesh says research firms, nonprofits, residents or academics should’ve led the search instead.
VENKATESH: There’s been a long history of folks who have gone to the CHA and given proposals and the CHA generally has not accepted them. So it’s interesting that they would pay all this money – and it’s a lot of money – to Globetrotters to try to find housing residents.
Representatives from Globetrotters declined to comment. Its president, Niranjan Shah, is politically connected. He was board trustee of the University of Illinois until clout controversy forced him to resign last year. Globetrotters has received millions in other city contracts.
CHA’s Linda Kaiser says Globetrotters has made some inroads. A year ago, 24 percent of residents hadn’t retained their right to return. The number is now down to 14 percent. Some 2,300 residents have still not responded to CHA.
CHA residents can be hard to find. They often move several times and years have gone by since wrecking balls knocked down the first buildings. Kaiser says it’s not just up to CHA.
KAISER: We also believe that it’s at least in part former residents’ responsibility to tell us when they move.
Housing advocates and researchers worried even back in 1999 that families would slip through bureaucratic cracks. As the lawyer for the tenant council body of CHA, Robert Whitfield doesn’t want families to be penalized for their mobility.
WHITFIELD: If a 10-1-99 family, say went down South to stay with their grandmother, and then showed up, say six years from now, all that individual would have to do is show their identification and show they were a 10-1-99 resident, then they would go to the top of the waiting list.
He brought that concern to CHA. The agency agreed to allow those former residents to return to public housing no matter how many years they’ve been away.
Part of the difficulty is that the Plan for Transformation is taking so much longer to complete than expected. Ten years after the launch, 71 percent of the plan is finished.
J.R. Fleming is a resident activist with the Coalition to Protect Public Housing. He says residents may have just given up on coming back.
FLEMING: More or less CHA inability to rebuild in a timely fashion resulted in a lot of residents becoming comfortable in their new communities. That is the reality of some things.
Fleming says some families feel they’ve dealt with so many broken promises and so much bureaucracy from the agencyâ€”they say they don’t want to be bothered anymore with the CHA.