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21 July 2008

Obama's Affordable Housing Record

Obama coauthored an Illinois law making new tax credits available to developers for affordable housing. He has labored for federal subsidies for such programs and he advocates an Affordable Housing Trust Fund as presidential candidate. What was his record of associations with affordable housing developers in Chicago? An article published in the Boston Globe by Binyamin Applebaum paints a very grim picture of his developer friends.

Their record of producing shoddy and unlivable housing was remarkable. Many of the buildings renovated deteriated so fast that they were renovated many times, each time with further infusions of tax money. You have probably already heard of Tony Rezko and his shenanigans, but have you heard about Valerie Jarrett, who serves as Obama's senior advisor on the presidential campaign and a member of his finance committee? How about Allison Davis who was a major fund-raiser for his US Senate campaign and a former lead partner at Obama's former law firm? How about Cecil Butler who controlled the Lawndale Restoration, the largest subsidized housing complex in Chicago?

Grove Parc Plaza was opened in 1990 as a redevelopment of an older housing complex. The owner was Woodlawn Preservation, which was headed by Obama associates Brazier and Finney, both local ministers. William Moorehead, who headed a private management firm, was hired to manage Grove Parc Plaza, but was replaced in 2001 and subsequently convicted of embezzling almost $1 million in management fees. He was replaced by Habitat Co. to manage Woodlawn. Its founder, Daniel Levin, headed it and contributed heavily to Obama's campaigns. Valerie Jarrett was executive vice president of Habitat. Grove Parc Plaza deteriorated rapidly under management by both Moorehead and Habitat and was seized from Woodlawn Preservation due to massive building inspection code violations. An even larger subsidized complex in Chicago co-managed by Habitat was seized after Valerie Jarrett became the chief executive of Habitat.

Allison Davis, Obama's former law firm boss, went into the affordable housing development business full-time in 1996, after having participated in the development earlier of Grove Parc Plaza. Over the last 10 years, Davis's companies have renovated or built more than 1500 apartments. Davis partnered with Tony Rezko a number of times, supported in some cases in their efforts to obtain loans by Obama. In 2001, Davis created a partnership to do a $10.7 million renovation of five buildings in a gentrifying neighborhood. Almost $6 million of state and federal subsidies went into the project before it deteriorated so badly that the city sued the owners and a judge imposed a $5,500 fine. Cullen Davis, Allison Davis's son and also an Obama contributor, now manages the firm that manages this project.

Cecil Butler controlled Lawndale Restoration, the largest Chicago subsidized housing complex. It was seized in 2006 after 1,800 building code inspection violations were found.

One would be naive not to be very wary of what Obama is really interested in when he advocates federal subsidies for affordable housing.

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