An Open Letter To CHA

November 22, 2002

Mr. Terry Peterson, Chief Executive Officer Board of Commissioners Chicago Housing Authority 626 W. Jackson Blvd. Chicago, IL 60661

Dear Mr. Peterson and Commissioners:

I am writing to request that the Chicago Housing Authority make public the reports submitted by the independent monitor of the relocation process, Thomas Sullivan.

Under the CHA’s Plan for Transformation, more than 15,000 families will be relocated; some several times. The process is far advanced, and the pace is accelerating. This year roughly 700 families were relocated; next year some 1,600 families are scheduled to be relocated. These moves have profound implications for individuals and for families, for public housing communities undergoing relocation and for neighborhoods to which CHA tenants are moving.

The Relocation Rights Contract governing the relationship between the CHA and tenants provides for monitoring of the relocation process. It does not specify how that function is to be performed. The CHA and the Central Advisory Council (CAC), the city-wide assembly of elected resident leaders, negotiated an agreement to contract with an independent monitor for the purpose of conducting an inquiry into the relocation process and making recommendations as to how it might be improved. Mr. Sullivan of the law firm Jenner & Block was selected to perform this function. A highly respected lawyer and former U. S. Attorney, Mr. Sullivan is a figure of unimpeachable integrity, competence, and independence. Working with several colleagues, he has conducted a wide-ranging investigation–observing every aspect of the relocation process and conducting interviews with residents, CHA staff, service providers, property managers, developers, and other participants in the process. Mr. Sullivan has submitted four reports and is preparing a final report.

The CHA would make a major contribution to the quality of public discourse about the Plan for Transformation by making available Mr. Sullivan’s reports.

I work at the Stateway Gardens development. Over the past year, five high-rises have been emptied at Stateway; three have been torn down; two are currently being demolished. When Stateway residents have raised concerns about the relocation process, the CHA has been responsive. On several occasions, Mr. Peterson, you have come to the development yourself to observe conditions on the ground. And members of your staff have worked closely with resident leaders to improve the relocation process.

It is in the spirit of this ongoing dialogue that I urge you to make public the reports of the independent monitor. By releasing Mr. Sullivan’s recommendations, the CHA would provide the basis for informed discussion that would deepen public understanding, enforce accountability on the various parties involved, and nourish possibilities for innovation.

Releasing the reports would also be prudent practical politics. By one avenue or another, they will eventually find their way into the public forum. It would be far more constructive, if they were made public by the CHA.

Finally, release of the reports would make it possible to assess the monitoring process itself. Has it served its intended purpose? In view of the fact that Mr. Sullivan’s contract runs only to the end of this year and the CHA is obligated to continue to provide for monitoring, how might this function best be performed in the future?

The View From The Ground began publication in the spring of 2001, as the relocation process was gathering momentum. The closing words of the first piece posted on The View seem even more relevant today:

Hope is a strenuous discipline. It demands that we acknowledge the history of abandonment that created present conditions and that we openly confront present realities. In the end, the greatest danger posed by our impoverished discourse about public housing is that we will fail to see and so will waste opportunities for humane, pragmatic strategies that are well within our reach.

Release of the Sullivan reports would be an act of civic statesmanship at a critical moment in the “transformation” of public housing.

Sincerely yours,

Jamie Kalven