Committee approves new CHA commissioner

Chicago lawyer Samuel Mendenhall says his path from the projects to a prestigious law firm will aid him in charting policy and programs for the CHA.

City Council's housing and real estate committee approved Mendenhall's appointment as a commissioner to the housing authority board. His nomination will go before the full council Wednesday.

A litigation partner with the Chicago office of Winston & Strawn, Mendenhall represents Fortune 500 clients, governmental and non-profit clients. His work in commercial and insurance litigation and product liability defense earned him the title of Illinois Super Lawyer for the past three years, according to the law firm's website.

"I have a tremendous affinity for public housing," said Mendenhall.


Samuel Mendenhall
That affinity is rooted Mendenhall's upbringing in CHA projects. He lived first at Ogden Courts and then at LeClaire Courts.

Mendenhall served in the U.S. Army, where he was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas and Camp Red Cloud, Korea. He attended the University of Illinois-Chicago and the University of Illinois College of Law on the G.I. Bill.

Mendenhall identified helping children make the switch from public housing to mixed income communities as a potential area of focus.

"I hope that I am becoming involved with something that helps people to realize that education can be a chance to break the cycle...that they can go further than their parents and be able to eventually return and give back to the community."

Mendenhall said another priority would be improving social services for public housing residents transitioning into housing through the Section 8 program.

Mendenhall works on the Winston & Strawn's pro bono committee. He is also the founder and former chairman of The Giveback Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to providing college scholarships and mentoring opportunities to inner-city high school students.

If confirmed, Mendenhall will replace Earnest Gates, whose term expired in July 2007.

Gates declined to comment on why he did not seek another term.

In other news, the housing committee approved changes to the city's abandoned property program, making it easier for the city to acquire vacant properties and turn them over to low-income buyers.

Under the Preserving Communities Together program, formerly know as the Chicago Abandoned Property Program, the city acquires abandoned buildings and sells them to applicants who rehabilitate them and sell them as low-income housing.

Formerly, for a building to be declared abandoned it had to be vacant, in dangerous condition, and have two or more years of delinquent taxes and or water bills.

"There are a lot of vacant buildings throughout the city that don't always meet these technical criteria, said Anthony Simpkins, deputy commissioner for the Housing Department. "With the increase in foreclosures and all the vacant lots in the city, this expands the ways that the city can acquire these properties and turn them over to developers and low-income buyers."

Specifics on the new criteria were not immediately available, and a Housing Department spokesperson said a copy of the ordinance would not be available until tomorrow.

Key changes will also permit the city to accept title to vacant properties from HUD and other government agencies.

"It's part of our over-all commitment to coming up with innovative ways to preserve affordable housing," said Simpkins.The amendment must still be approved by the City Council at its meeting on Wednesday.

In other news, the 5th Ward moved a step closer to gaining a library today when the public buildings committee authorized the city to acquire a vacant lot at the corner of 73rd and South Chicago.

Alderman Leslie Hairston [D-5th] said the planned Grand Crossing Branch Library has topped her wish-list for projects since her election in 1999.

"We are the only ward in the city that doesn't have a public library," said Hairston. "We still have a large number of households that still do not have computers or access to them. This will provide them with a place where they can access the Internet. All the city programs happen in libraries. Libraries are safe havens. This is major."

The Comer Foundation is donating the land for the library to the city.

The Housing Committee also authorized the city to acquire property in the 95th and Western Avenue TIF project redevelopment area in the Beverly Community. The properties include 16 parcels along south Western Ave. and 95th Street. The majority of the land included in the designated sites has been vacant for years. The city says the area could be redeveloped for residential, commercial and mixed uses.

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BEN BROEREN, 01-31-2008

Well-written, good profile of Samuel Mendenhall.