“I grew up pretty poor on the South Side of Chicago, so I saw the tale of two cities, so to speak. That stays with you. It’s good not to forget where you came from. That’s one of the things that’s driven me.
“It’s much harder today because the erosion of the safety net has made it more difficult for families to survive – especially people who don’t have good jobs. There’s a lot of luck involved. That’s something people don’t realize. A lot of people make it in this country, but they make it for a reason: because there are lots of supports. The government has supported them along the way, be it through tax credits or student loans or infrastructure, so you can move your products. That’s been one of the biggest disappointments for me, to see how we’ve turned our back on too many of our fellow citizens.
“I’ve been involved in the production of probably 150,000 affordable apartments in some way, shape or form. If you don’t have a roof over your head you’re not going to flourish. Even when the country was in great economic shape there was still way too big of a gap between rich and poor. It really shows itself in the housing market. You’ve got people who have 10,000 squarefoot homes. Then you have got people who don’t have a place. That injustice struck me early in my career, and ever since then I’ve really made a commitment to getting as many affordable apartments and houses built.
“In many ways, our system, the way it runs, has accepted the fact there are going to be losers. It shouldn’t be that way. The wealth of this country needs to take care of some of these interim social problems we have. Period.
“At the Perlman, there are older folks that have lived in the same building for a long time with not many renovations. You see the joy on their face when they walk into their brand new apartment. People deserve to live in dignity. If somebody hadn’t had their apartment painted for six years, it might not sound like a lot to some, but to those folks who are there every day, it is. A new refrigerator is a big deal. Those are the kinds of things that really keep us going. “Because of where the Perlman and Walchirk are located, there was a lot of talk that the buildings were going to be sold and people were going to be displaced. I think the fact that we made this $28 million commitment, it sent a huge message. They’re going to stay for low-income seniors and disabled people for another 30 or 40 years.
“RAD was huge. Next to Hope VI, RAD was the best program that HUD’s ever come up with. The beauty of it is its simplicity. All it said was, ‘Okay, Housing Authority: you can now act like the private marketplace.’”