Editor's note: This is the first in a series of investigative stories by The Chicago Reporter, recently partnered with NBCChicago to provide hard-hitting pieces on social and economic issues.
Among the handful of scofflaw landlords who didn't ring in the New Year with new city contracts is one of former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s most strident allies: Leon Finney Jr.
Finney has been under fire for racking up serious code violations--including no heat, no hot water and chronically broken boilers--in a handful of subsidized buildings his nonprofit manages on the Chicago’s South Side.
While the city’s law department has opened eight housing court cases against the properties in the past four years alone, fellow city agencies have had enough confidence in the nonprofits he’s controlled in that time--the Woodlawn Community Development Corp. and The Woodlawn Organization, better known as TWO--that they’ve handed over millions in taxpayer dollars to manage low-income housing and provide social services.
Finney is in the process of selling the troubled buildings that have landed him on the city’s black list. Is the trouble a sign that one of the Woodlawn community’s most prolific housing developers and pastors is facing deep financial problems? Or that he’s losing a grip on the political influence he’s been able to wield at City Hall for nearly four decades?
A Chicago Reporter investigation found that the subsidized buildings aren’t his nonprofits’ only venture in disarray. Audit reports reveal that the agencies’ ledgers continue to come up short, and meeting basic expenses, including federal and state taxes, payroll and building maintenance, are an ongoing challenge.
Meanwhile, the Reporter found that while his tenants are suffering and employees aren’t being paid on time, few cutbacks have been made on expenses that benefit Finney, who has cashed in on lucrative vacation payouts, unloaded properties owned by his church and his late father on the nonprofits, and charged them more than $1.5 million in recent years for consulting and other services his own private companies have provided.
The transactions put into focus the sort of deals that critics have long said are the problem with Finney’s business style: He blurs the line between doing community development work for the common good and doing what’s good for himself.
“I’m a complicated guy,” Finney told the Reporter, “but at the end of the day, my intent and my motives are always to improve and strengthen and fulfill.”
“The Leon Finneys in urban America are not the problem,” he added. “We have been the solution.”
Check out the full investigation on the sort of subsidized housing Finney helped develop here.
Investigative news organization The Chicago Reporter joined forces with the NBC 5 Chicago to create hard-hitting stories on social and economic issues. Follow their stories at chicagoreporter.com.