Grim proving ground for Obama’s housing policy
The candidate endorsed subsidies for private entrepreneurs to build low-income units. But, while he garnered support from developers, many projects in his former district have fallen into disrepair.
By Binyamin Appelbaum – Globe Staff / June 27, 2008
CHICAGO – The squat brick buildings of Grove Parc Plaza, in a dense neighborhood that Barack Obama represented for eight years as a state senator, hold 504 apartments subsidized by the federal government for people who can’t afford to live anywhere else.
But it’s not safe to live here.
About 99 of the units are vacant, many rendered uninhabitable by unfixed problems, such as collapsed roofs and fire damage. Mice scamper through the halls. Battered mailboxes hang open. Sewage backs up into kitchen sinks. In 2006, federal inspectors graded the condition of the complex an 11 on a 100-point scale – a score so bad the buildings now face demolition.
Grove Parc has become a symbol for some in Chicago of the broader failures of giving public subsidies to private companies to build and manage affordable housing – an approach strongly backed by Obama as the best replacement for public housing.
As a state senator, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee coauthored an Illinois law creating a new pool of tax credits for developers. As a US senator, he pressed for increased federal subsidies. And as a presidential candidate, he has campaigned on a promise to create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund that could give developers an estimated $500 million a year.
But a Globe review found that thousands of apartments across Chicago that had been built with local, state, and federal subsidies – including several hundred in Obama’s former district – deteriorated so completely that they were no longer habitable.
Grove Parc and several other prominent failures were developed and managed by Obama’s close friends and political supporters. Those people profited from the subsidies even as many of Obama’s constituents suffered. Tenants lost their homes; surrounding neighborhoods were blighted.
Some of the residents of Grove Parc say they are angry that Obama did not notice their plight. The development straddles the boundary of Obama’s state Senate district. Many of the tenants have been his constituents for more than a decade.
“No one should have to live like this, and no one did anything about it,” said Cynthia Ashley, who has lived at Grove Parc since 1994.
Obama’s campaign, in a written response to Globe questions, affirmed the candidate’s support of public-private partnerships as an alternative to public housing, saying that Obama has “consistently fought to make livable, affordable housing in mixed-income neighborhoods available to all.”
The campaign did not respond to questions about whether Obama was aware of the problems with buildings in his district during his time as a state senator, nor did it comment on the roles played by people connected to the senator.
Among those tied to Obama politically, personally, or professionally are:
Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama’s presidential campaign and a member of his finance committee. Jarrett is the chief executive of Habitat Co., which managed Grove Parc Plaza from 2001 until this winter and co-managed an even larger subsidized complex in Chicago that was seized by the federal government in 2006, after city inspectors found widespread problems.
Go to the Boston Globe’s newstory to finish reading this article and see the video of residents interviewed, and remember, Obama wants to give us a healthcare program, and based on this housing project and it’s outcome, I don’t think Mr. Obama is capable of pulling off all the Hope and Change he’s pushing.