STAFF at THE CHICAGO HOUSING INITIATIVE COALITION
The mission of the Chicago Housing Initiative (CHI) is to amplify the power of low-income Chicago residents to preserve, improve, and expand low-cost rental housing, stabilize communities facing displacement, and advance racial and economic equity and inclusion across all of Chicago's diverse neighborhoods.
Don Washington, Executive Director, Spring, 2020- present
The new director of the Chicago Housing Initiative Coalition brings over 30 years' experience creating powerful intersectional, interracial, interfaith and intergenerational social justice campaigns, training programs and organizations.
CHI's Director, Don Washington, specializes in the creation of self-replicating processes for community organizing institutions so that they can sustain their work past their initial campaign. He also brings considerable expertise with public speaking and a deep understanding of a number of public policy areas.
Leah Levinger, Founding Executive Director, 2009-Spring, 2020
FOUNDING EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR & COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
Campaign Planning & Implementation, Legislation & Policy Expertise, Media Placement and Base-Building
Highly qualified community organizer offering 15 years of experience with intensive and successful community-based campaign experience in struggles to empower tenants, improve and expand Chicago’s low-income housing stock, and counter race- and class-based anti-affordable housing sentiment to build inclusive and integrated communities and combat segregation. Results-focused, persistent, and passionate, with proven ability to turn a grassroots vision into reality by nourishing local leadership, building community power, and developing effective partnerships that create tangible improvements in people’s lives. Experienced cross-sector coalition builder. Knowledgeable about comprehensive redevelopment initiatives and city and federal legislative processes. Exposure to diverse formal leadership development and organizer training programs. Experience organizing powerful direct actions and broad-based community events. Six years of experience with advancing local affordable housing legislation through Chicago’s City Council, securing endorsements of various City Council Caucuses, and brokering negotiations with the Mayor’s Office and Corporation Counsel.
B.A. Philosophy and Anthropology, Honors
University of Chicago
· Student Marshall Honor Society · Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society
Chicago Housing Initiative---- Chicago, IL 2009-Spring, 2020
FOUNDING EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LEAD ORGANIZER
In 2009, founded Chicago Housing Initiative (CHI), a citywide coalition dedicated to the mission of building the power of low-income people to expand and preserve low-cost rental housing, stabilize communities facing displacement, and advance racial and economic equity and inclusion. Grew CHI’s organizational membership from just four organizations to a robust and highly active coalition network currently comprised of 11 community-based organizations across Chicago’s north, south, and west sides.
In her capacity at CHI, Leah has built the capacity and effectiveness of organizations working to preserve subsidized rental housing, improve the conditions of Chicago's low-income housing, and expand access to public and affordable housing across Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods. Serving as the founding Executive Director of CHI, in her work with CHI, Leah was instrumental in securing passage of the national Durbin-Brown amendment, which provided over $5 million in new resources to assist tenants living in buildings with expiring HUD mortgages. Subsequently, Leah's work has supported the lease-up of over 4,500 apartments that the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) had designated “offline” and left vacant at the start of CHI's “Lease-Up Campaign” in 2010. Leah’s ground-breaking research also led to the documentation that the CHA was stockpiling over $440 million in public funding, leading to the subsequent release of 9,200 additional vouchers by the CHA by 2016 due to community and media pressure around the CHA's severe and long-standing under-utilization of available housing vouchers, a feature of CHA’s deregulation.
Since 2014, Leah has staffed CHI’s efforts to introduce and pass a package of two affordable housing ordinances that would together provide access to thousands more affordable housing units integrated across all of Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods.
The Homes for All Ordinance would preserve Chicago’s remaining public housing units on a one-for-one unit basis, substantially desegregate the siting of future public housing units, triple the amount of public housing in low-poverty & high opportunity neighborhoods, improve the transparency and accountability of the CHA and hold CHA accountable to its historic rebuilding promises. The Homes for All Ordinance currently has 25 Aldermanic co-sponsors and awaits a vote in the Housing Committee.
The Development for All Ordinance works to close loopholes fatally undermining Chicago’s current inclusionary zoning policy. This Ordinance would triple the amount of affordable housing required in exchange for “upzoning” approval by Chicago’s City Council in Chicago’s high-rent neighborhoods, reduce rents of “affordable” apartments to 20-50% AMI, a range actually affordable by people of color, people with disabilities, and minimum wage workers, and mandate the production of family sized affordable housing. The Development for All Ordinance currently has 20 co-sponsors and the City of Chicago announced a Task Force that will build upon its recommendations to amend the city’s inclusionary zoning policy.
Finally, Leah is serving as the coordinator in a citywide federal fair housing complaint against the City of Chicago filed by a set of 11 organizational plaintiffs and the Shriver Center last November (2018). The Fair Housing Complaint alleges Chicago’s long-standing tradition of “Aldermanic prerogative” acts to to retrench and reinforce the City’s segregation and functions effectively as a tool of “The New Jim Crow.” Negotiations with the City Attorney, Mayor’s Office, and HUD are beginning. Through the Fair Housing Complaint, CHI and its member organizations seek a new method for citywide planning rooted in a commitment to advancing racial and economic equity in all aspects of planning and development, and the institutionalization of using “Racial Equity Impact Assessments” as a core part of all Chicago development, budget, and funding approvals.
Neighbors for Affordable Housing on the Northwest Side---- Chicago, IL February 2017-2020
CO-FOUNDER & COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
In response to overtly racist and hateful opposition to a proposal to build the first family public housing in Chicago’s northwest side neighborhood of Jefferson Park, Leah worked in partnership with community residents on Chicago’s northwest side to found a new community organizing institution called “Neighbors for Affordable Housing on the Northwest Side,” dedicated to the cause of creating affordable, accessible family public housing in a historically segregated, white middle-class community and making the community more equitable, inclusive, compassionate, and affordable. With Leah’s technical support and training, Neighbors for Affordable Housing secured zoning and financing approval for the first family public housing in Jefferson Park in the neighborhood’s history amidst of climate of extreme antagonism and right-wing extremist political organizing against the development. As a co-founder of NfAH, Leah also helped the organization grow a membership base of 250 and a mailing list of 1,200 people within its first year of existence.
National People’s Action---- Chicago, IL Feb 2008-Oct 2009
DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATE & FORECLOSURE ORGANIZER
In partnership with Development Director, maintained organizational budget of $1.8 million by soliciting foundation, corporate, and government grants and individual donations. Helped secure 8 new major funders during tenure in Development Department. Managed grant reporting requirements and donor database. Served as primary liaison between organizing staff and development department to ensure grant applications were driven by organizing goals.
Southside Together Organizing for Power ---- Chicago, IL
March 2004-June 2009
CO-FOUNDER of ORGANIZATION & LEAD ORGANIZER, GROVE PARC REDEVELOPMENT CAMPAIGN
As a volunteer, worked every evening and weekend for five years to build a new community organization on Chicago’s south side to support low-income African American residents fighting against displacement and for the equitable development of their community. Served as the lead organizer on a campaign to support tenants at Grove Parc Plaza Apartments, in a landmark subsidized housing redevelopment campaign to rebuild and preserve on a one-for-one units basis in the community 504-units of low-income housing adjacent to the University of Chicago. As the lead organizer for the Grove Parc tenants’ campaign, Leah helped tenants in organizing a representative, democratically run Tenants’ Association with a 11-member steering committee of building captains to encourage reinvestment in the property. Following threat of foreclosure, supported a successful campaign by tenants to locate a qualified non-profit developer to take ownership of the complex, organize sale of the complex to the tenant-endorsed developer, and pressure the Department of Housing and Urban Development to implement tenants’ vision for the redevelopment of their homes. Supported Tenants’ Association in developing and negotiating formal Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the developer they had brought in, giving them enforceable rights in the decision-making processes regarding redevelopment planning, relocation, management and security, and resident-hiring initiatives. The Grove Parc Plaza redevelopment became one of the first recipients of a grant under HUD’s federal Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, and is widely touted as a national model for how to equitably, inclusively redevelop concentrated subsidized housing without loss of affordable apartments or displacement of any resident family.
South Side Community Federal Credit Union---- Chicago, IL Feb 2007-Feb. 2008
Raised over $250,000 in foundation, corporate, and government grants and individual donations to support the Credit Union’s operations and programs. Secured an additional $275,000 in Program Related Investments, facilitating institutional growth as a Community Development Financial Institution. Managed impact tracking and reporting requirements for grants and PRIs. Created Individual Donor Database and organized joint Strategic Planning Process with the affiliated South Side Community Economic Development Center.
Chicago Rehab Network---- Chicago, IL February 2006- February 2007
REGIONAL COORDINATOR, RENTAL HOUSING PRESERVATION INITIATIVE
Raised awareness about the loss of federally-subsidized rental housing on Chicago’s south side. Trained community-based organizations, tenants’ associations, social service agencies, and religious associations on housing preservation strategies, via on-site workshops for organizations and regional issue-based learning circles. Mobilized and guided community groups in the creation of community-based strategic plans to preserve low-income housing and focus organizing efforts. Facilitated neighborhood-based groups in connecting with key governmental agencies and decision-makers. Coordinated 15 neighborhood-based organizations to convene the Southside Affordable Rental Housing Preservation Summit, which was attended by over 400 residents, housing professionals, and key aldermanic and congressional leaders.
ADDITIONAL SOCIAL JUSTICE
FELLOWSHIPS & VOLUNTEER ROLES
Social Justice News Nexus Journalism Fellowship, April 2015-March 2016
Emmaus House Catholic Worker House Board Member and Worker, August 2017- August, 2020
Co-staffed house of hospitality in the Catholic Worker tradition for people leaving homelessness
and in need of interim housing, community, and spiritual communion and fellowship.