Tribune watchdog: $685,000 a year to run nonprofit
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.