Friday, June 27, 2008

Grim Legacy: Obama's Housing Crisis

I noted this morning that there's much to be learned from Barack Obama's days as a Hyde Park politician. I noted the special importance of Obama's ties to neighborhood radicals, but it turns out Obama's days as a Chicago machine politician have left a grim legacy in the city's public housing sector.

The Boston Globe reports:

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.
That's a lot to digest, and there's more at the link.

John McCain has attacked Obama as "insensitive to poor people and out of touch on economic issues."

It's a fair criticism, especially if we look at Obama's record representing Chicago in the Illinois legislature is any guide.

Indeed, routine knowledge of Chicago's public housing indicates that in many respects Grove Parc represents the historic core of black inner-city poverty in the industrial Midwest in the post-WWII era, and Obama's left it in no better shape than before he took office.

And this is the agent of change?

Is that a record of achievement and qualification for the Oval Office - dilapidated Chicago housing projects?

Readers know that social policy is one of my concerns, and I've long argued that the GOP is better equipped ideologically to address the nation's urban crisis. As a case study in Democratic urban management, Barack Obama helps prove the point.

For the machine politics angle to this story, see "
Change We Can Be Shocked At."