More than 60 years ago, the city gave the Chicago Dwellings Association a noble mission -- provide affordable housing for people with low and moderate incomes.
In recent years, the nonprofit's four apartment buildings also have become a lucrative income source for the organization's president, Christine M.J. Oliver.
In 2008, Oliver was paid about $685,000 in annual compensation from CDA and its management firm -- an amount that shocked local housing experts, nonprofit consultants and even a former board member of the Chicago Dwellings Association.
Housing and nonprofit experts said Oliver's compensation is at least three times higher than that received by chief executives of other local nonprofit housing development corporations.
"It's clearly absurd," said Jay Readey, an attorney who specializes in affordable housing and community development and is an adjunct professor at DePaul University's law school.
Records and interviews show Oliver also has taken out personal loans of nearly half a million dollars for her own housing purchases.
At the same time, some residents living in one of CDA's buildings at 727 E. 60th St. have protested rent hikes, filed a lawsuit against the nonprofit and have complained that CDA and its management firm, Community Management Association, aren't keeping up the building.
Oliver also leads the management company and is paid through both nonprofit corporations.
The city sued CDA in June for having 20 building code violations at its Midway Gardens Apartments building. In early December the case was dismissed because the problems had been fixed.
Two of CDA's properties collectively have received more than $1 million in federal housing subsidies from taxpayers in each of the last two years, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The properties are exempt from paying property taxes.
Commenting through written statements, the nonprofit said Oliver took CDA from the brink of bankruptcy and built it into a self-sustaining, financially stable organization that funds research and sponsors conferences on affordable housing.
Oliver, a former Chicago Housing Authority director of development who joined CDA in 1991, would not talk directly with the Tribune.
Her compensation is determined by CDA's board of directors, which includes the Rev. Stanley L. Davis and the Rev. David C. Coleman Jr. in addition to Oliver. Both men declined to be interviewed.
A three-member board is unusually small by nonprofit standards. In general, nonprofit boards should have at least five members, according to the Panel on the Nonprofit Sector, formed in 2004 at the urging of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee to look at ethical conduct and responsible governance in nonprofits. Three members is the minimum allowed in Illinois.
Former board member Martin Koldyke, a well-known businessman who founded the Golden Apple Foundation, initially told the Tribune he was surprised by Oliver's high pay, which rose by nearly $300,000 after 2001, the year Koldyke said he resigned from the board.
"What? Oh my God," he said when told about her compensation. "I hope I'm not listed as a director because I certainly wouldn't have voted for that."
After Koldyke submitted a letter of resignation, CDA continued to list him as a board member through 2008, something Koldyke later said he agreed to allow at Davis' request. Koldyke said he has not been actively involved with CDA in eight years. "I feel very sorry that I allowed my name to be used," he said, declining to comment further on Oliver.
Extraordinary payBeginning in 2002, CDA and its management firm have paid Oliver more than half a million dollars a year.
She was paid the most in 2005, when she received a total of $725,000 from CDA and the management firm, including a $42,000 contribution to a retirement plan. In all, Oliver has received about $689,000 in retirement contributions from CDA.
Her 2008 compensation included about $500,000 from CDA and $185,000 from the management firm.
In Chicago, the median compensation for CEOs running housing or shelter nonprofits was $129,358, according to a compensation report based on 2007 IRS data that was prepared by GuideStar, a national organization that gathers information on nonprofits. CEOs who ranked in the 75th percentile were paid $316,815, less than half Oliver's most recent salary.
Compensation as high as Oliver's is more in line with that of CEOs of hospitals and major foundations, said Andrew Mooney, executive director of LISC/Chicago, a lender involved with the development of affordable housing in Chicago.
In a statement, CDA said that because it manages a large portfolio and doesn't accept donations or foundation funds, the nonprofit looks at private corporations when considering compensation.
Oliver has at least some company in making a high-six-figure salary for leading a housing nonprofit. In 2007, David S. Forkosh received about $530,000, plus $45,000 in benefits, for heading FMH Foundation, a Northbrook nonprofit that provides housing for low-income seniors.
Alan Caplan, a director for the foundation, said elderly housing is only a small portion of the nonprofit's portfolio and that its projects also include managing trust funds and investments. Forkosh's salary was determined by bringing in outside consultants, he said.
"We are very aware of our fiduciary responsibility and duty," he said.
In addition to her compensation, Oliver borrowed nearly $500,000 from CDA to acquire her own housing, said Albert Grasso, CDA's tax attorney.
Property records show that Oliver owns a home in the north suburbs, a condominium in Lincoln Park and another condo on Florida's Gasparilla Island -- a village located on the Gulf of Mexico. It is unclear what property Oliver bought with the loan.
Nonprofits sometimes provide loans for housing to board members or employees who are moving from one area to another to take a job, but the loans should be extended carefully, said Diana Aviv, executive director for the Panel on the Nonprofit Sector.
"We think that, generally, it's a bad idea," Aviv said.
Under guidelines set by the Internal Revenue Service, tax-exempt organizations must pay executives a "reasonable" salary. Reasonable compensation is determined with respect to the market value of the services performed, according to the IRS.
Grasso said the IRS reviewed Oliver's compensation and the personal loans during a routine audit from 2005 to 2007. He said he explained the loans, Oliver's work and how it compared with other organizations, and the IRS found no improprieties. Grasso would not provide IRS documents detailing the audit. The agency does not comment on individual taxpayers.
Neither Davis nor Coleman was paid for his work as a board member, although Davis received about $30,000 in 2007 and 2008 for consulting work, tax records show. Davis is co-executive director of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago. Coleman is a presiding elder for the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Oliver and Davis also have incorporated a business that is a subsidiary of CDA. The nonprofit has loaned the business about $230,000 to help complete a contract to install air conditioners in senior housing high-rises, CDA and tax records show. The nonprofit said Oliver and Davis have not profited from the company, CDA Management.
Developer, landlordChicago Dwellings Association touts itself as the city's oldest nonprofit housing development corporation. The organization was started in 1948 at the recommendation of the Mayor's Committee for Housing Action.
In a statement, CDA said that over the last 60 years it has developed and rehabbed more than 12,000 units of quality, affordable housing in Chicago. The nonprofit has about 780 housing units, 49 employees and $7.2 million in total assets, and Community Management has about $100,000 in assets, tax filings show.
CDA said the market value of the assets is $81 million. Collectively, the nonprofit and its management arm generated about $6.7 million in revenue in 2008, tax documents show. But the organization said the revenue was closer to $7.2 million because one of the properties brought in an additional $460,000. The association shares a Michigan Avenue office overlooking the Chicago River, though it said Monday that it is moving its office to one of its South Side properties.
At least two of the properties the nonprofit owns were developed using loans issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The loans were for developments that provide housing for elderly people with low-incomes or multifamily rental homes.
The nonprofit helped develop Orchard Park Townhomes in the mid-1990s, which provided replacement housing in the Cabrini-Green community. In a statement, CDA said Oliver also has helped design and operate supportive programs for elderly residents and temporary housing for families of critically ill patients, among other accomplishments.
Oliver joined CDA nearly two decades ago after serving as director of development and special housing programs for the Chicago Housing Authority. She previously held several senior-level policy positions with HUD.
Jeffrey Lubell, executive director of the Center for Housing Policy, said in a statement that Oliver is a nationally recognized leader in affordable housing.
"Any organization would be well-served to have her on their team," he wrote. Oliver sits on the board of the Center for Housing Policy.
Most recently, CDA has played the role of landlord.
Two of the properties are senior apartment buildings -- Midway Plaisance and Drexel Square -- which both scored high in HUD's most recent inspections.
Each year, the properties receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in subsidies from HUD. In the last three years collectively, HUD paid about $896,000 to Midway Plaisance and about $2.2 million to Drexel Square, the federal agency said.
CDA said the subsidies go directly into accounts for the buildings and can be used only to subsidize operating expenses for the buildings.
At Midway Gardens Apartments, where building code violations led the city to sue CDA, a city inspector said the problems had been fixed by December. But some tenants remain upset about the condition of the building.
"We aren't getting anything but mice, roaches, dirty halls, dirty laundry rooms," said Ida Pollard, 82, who has lived there for more than 50 years. "It's gotten real bad the past six or seven years."
Other residents said that it takes too long for management to fix problems.
Cora Washington, 74, said she had a hole in her wall for about a year after a maintenance worker broke through the plaster to fix a radiator. "Rats were coming through," she said.
CDA said the organization's top priority is to keep the aging building well-maintained and clean, and not all residents are unhappy.
Desiree Mosely said she has lived at Midway Gardens for about seven years and hasn't had any complaints.
"I'm very pleased," she said. "It's comfortable. It's a home to me."
Another Midway Gardens resident, Alvina Broussard, has filed suit in Cook County Court alleging a variety of chronic problems including mice infestations, broken elevators and a dirty ventilation system that emits soot and black residue into tenants' apartments.
"It's sad that it had to come to this," Broussard said.
Residents living in the building were surprised to hear that the president of the company that owns their building was making a salary in the high six figures.
"A not-for-profit? That's mind-boggling," Washington said.