Two years into his tenure, Chicago Housing Authority CEO Charles Woodyard has stepped down from his high-level post, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel has become disenchanted with the slow pace of transforming the city's public housing.
Although the mayor praised Woodyard in an official statement, a City Hall source said he was frustrated that the Plan for Transformation, the CHA's blueprint for rethinking public housing, wasn't moving faster after years of delays.
"It's no secret that CHA has not been moving at the pace the mayor would like," said the source, who asked not to be named. The mayor, who is in charge of appointing the agency's board, supported the resignation, the source said.
Woodyard's resignation is effective Nov. 1, and a new CEO has not yet been named. Woodyard was not present at a regular CHA board meeting Tuesday morning, but part of his resignation letter was read.
"I am pursuing other opportunities that I hope will benefit my family and my career," Woodyard said in a statement read by CHA board Chairwoman Zaldwaynaka Scott. "As you know, I have a young son who will soon begin his college career. I would like to spend more time guiding him and providing him with the resources he needs to meet his own goals."
Woodyard's resignation comes as the CHA has been scrutinized for not delivering promised public and affordable housing. The CHA has also been criticized for its policies and procedures that have blocked access for hundreds of needy families.
Under its $1.6 billion Plan for Transformation, the CHA is supposed to demolish high-rises and decayed apartment complexes that housed the poor in violent and troubled communities. The agency was charged with rebuilding and revitalizing 25,000 housing units for poor and low-income Chicago families.
But that plan repeatedly stalled and is about five years behind schedule. Just last year, the agency promised to deliver 845 housing units for residents. But according to CHA reports, only 173 apartments were delivered. There are also about 85,000 families on wait lists for housing, CHA reports show.
The organization is being sued for a policy that forced residents to take drug tests to renew their leases. There have also been recent protests by residents who were promised the right to return to their redeveloped neighborhoods but were denied because of various technicalities.
In his resignation letter, obtained by the Tribune, Woodyard did not mention recent controversies that have enveloped the agency. Instead, he noted that he has worked in the public sector for more than 30 years. "While I have treasured this service, it has long been my desire to take my talents to another direction," he wrote.
Woodyard did not return calls seeking comment. He is the third person to head the agency in four years, records show. There are currently three high-level executive positions unfilled at the agency, officials said.
The mayor in September 2011 recruited Woodyard from Charlotte, N.C., where he was head of that city's public housing agency. His salary at the CHA was $216,000. Woodyard's Chicago predecessor, Lewis Jordan, left after questions were raised about credit card use at the CHA.
Woodyard was viewed as empathetic to the residents' plights. But he failed to carry out a new vision, said Leah Levinger, coordinator for the Chicago Housing Initiative, an advocacy group.
CHA officials said the agency's Plan Forward, which is an updated version of the Plan for Transformation, will continue despite Woodyard's departure. Levinger said she hoped the CHA would use a change in leadership as an opportunity to shift priorities.
"We hope this is a moment for CHA to shift its focus to rehab rather than demolition," Levinger said. "We hope a new CEO will focus on the full use of CHA's resources rather than let thousands of units sit empty and vouchers not be circulated."
But the resignation is troubling because it means progress on the transformation plan could stall again, Levinger said. That means it would take even longer for the agency to build the new housing developments it has promised. And again apartment complexes will sit empty and be viewed as eyesores in various communities.
"With the constant turnover of senior leadership, it shows there is a real accountability problem," she said.
Woodyard's resignation was another blow for residents who have struggled for years to be heard by the agency's leadership, said Miguel Suarez, a longtime resident of the Lathrop Homes who is on the development's leadership team.
"It appears almost as if this is being done purposely to slow our progress and make our accomplishments insignificant," Suarez said.