Problems continue at CHA-backed charity

The Chicago Housing Authority has decided to continue funding its financially troubled nonprofit arm, Windows of Opportunity.

But a fresh infusion of CHA cash will not solve all of the problems at Windows, which has fallen out of compliance with state requirements for charitable organizations, and has yet to produce a strategic plan requested by the CHA.

In order to receive donations, nonprofits must file tax forms with the office every year, says Natalie Bauer, spokeswoman for the state Attorney General's Office.

Bauer says the reports are part of the effort to keep consumers informed about how charitable donations are spent.

The last complete tax form on record with the attorney general is from 2005.

"The whole goal for the office is to get the organization into compliance so the public can access it," says Bauer. "We are working with Windows of Opportunity to help them get back in compliance."

Windows is addressing the problem, according to Matt Aguilar, CHA spokesman.

"Windows was recently made aware of the situation and is working hard to resolve it," says Aguilar.

Other information about the nonprofit remains hard to come by.

Windows of Opportunity's executive director, Crystal Brown-Black, was unavailable for an interview.

Aguilar says he's unable to provide more details on Window's funding or future plans because of possible legal restrictions.

However, he says any future for Windows will include more transparency and accountability.

"As with all charitable institutions in this time of economic crisis and decreased giving, there is a concern that every dollar be spent in the most efficient way to maximize its leveraging capacity," says Aguilar.

The nonprofit was started in 1989 as a way for contributors to make tax-deductible contributions to programs for CHA residents.

Over the years, Windows of Opportunity has operated programs for nutrition, health, music and even Little League. Although the goal was for Windows to become self-sufficient, it hasn't done so.

The CHA board voted 7-2 in May to extend until Dec. 31 a $216,000 contract with Windows.

At a CHA board meeting last week, commissioners expressed their skepticism about Windows, but ultimately voted to continue their contract with Windows through the end of 2009.

The money will be used to run a scholarship program, continue partnerships with outside agencies and identify and fill gaps in services for residents.

Commissioner Bridget O'Keefe, one of the two commissioners voting against the contract  in May, told executive director Crystal Brown-Black that she wants to see progress.

"I'm going to hold you to this," said O'Keefe. "We're going to expect you to live by what you're committing to here."

The new contract upped Windows' reporting requirements. The CHA formerly required quarterly reports. But now  the nonprofit is required to report monthly, and to submit a three-year strategic plan.

Windows lost money from 2003 to 2005. Finances improved in 2006 and even more in 2007, with public support increasing more than fourfold - from $180,351 in 2006 to $735,486 in 2007.

Accountability and planning are important for any nonprofit, says Dean Eitel, assistant director of the School of Public Service at DePaul University,  especially for those with troubled finances.

"I often suggest to non-profit organizations that they develop a sound strategic plan from which to operate," says Eitel. "Organization survival depends on this process - the will to follow what it requires."

Staff Writer Megan Cottrell covers public housing for the Daily News. She can be reached at 773-362-5002, ext. 12.

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