Chicago Housing Authority CEO Abruptly Resigns

Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) CEO Eugene E. Jones Jr. abruptly resigned after nearly five years in the position.

In a statement, Jones thanked Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot and the housing authority’s board of commissioners for their confidence in him and for allowing him “to be a part of the larger efforts to help build and strengthen our neighborhoods.” His resignation will be effective on September 27.

“From bringing new investment to communities and forming innovative partnerships that led to the development of ... new community assets like grocery stores and recreational facilities and the settlement earlier this year of the landmark Gautreaux case, I leave knowing that the CHA is well-positioned for the future and is prepared to meet the housing needs of its residents and the communities across our city,” Jones said.

Jones did not reveal his reason for resigning but said he was looking forward to pursuing new opportunities.

The Gautreaux case, a 52-year-old lawsuit claiming racial discrimination in public housing, was settled in December. According to The Chicago Sun-Times, the CHA and Business and Professional People in the Public Interest reached an agreement on how the CHA will “offset the impacts of racial segregation caused by its historic building and tenant assignment practices.” The case is expected to be closed by July 31, 2024.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that City Hall sources claimed Jones’ decision to resign a year before his $291,500-a-year contract ended was made independently and was not a consequence of being pushed out by Lightfoot. Sources added that the mayor wanted Jones to stay as CEO.

In a statement to The North Star, the mayor’s office said Lightfoot accepted Jones’ resignation as CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority. “The Mayor and the City thank Mr. Jones for his four years of leadership running one of the nation’s largest public housing authorities,” the statement said. “A search for his replacement will begin immediately.”

Prior to his time in Chicago, Jones worked at housing agencies in Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Toronto. He joined CHA in April 2015 as Chief Property Officer. Two months later, he was named acting CEO. Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel named Jones as the permanent CEO in January 2016.

Jones, who was CHA’s longest-serving leader in over a decade, resigned just a month after CHA board chair John Hooker resigned in July. Earlier this year, the housing agency lost former chief of staff José Alvarez when he decided to run Illinois Tollway, WBEZ reported.

As CEO, Jones settled litigation over Chicago’s Cabrini Rowhouses and agreed to rehabilitate 40 percent of the units as public housing, according to WBEZ. Jones also devoted $5 million to the federal program known as Section 3, which gives jobs and contracts to public housing residents.

Earlier this year, Jones denied speculation that he was leaving Chicago to run New York City’s housing authority. Though some reports identified Jones as the frontrunner for that position, it has since been filled, The Chicago Sun-Times reported.

“We just lost the Michael Jordan of housing,” Chicago activist and former Cabrini-Green resident J.R. Fleming told WBEZ. “He created a job program and kept our voices included in the program, making sure minority contractors had access. He didn’t look at the problem, but he looked at the solution.”

In speaking to The North Star, Fleming shared that he was “shocked and disappointed” that Jones decided to leave early. He added that residents figured when Jones put rumors about his move to rest, they would only have to worry about Atlanta trying to take him away from the city.

Fleming further stated that Jones’ departure leaves a void and creates delays in programs in the Cabrini-Green redevelopment process. “His departure also creates reservations and trust issues again for whomever takes over in the interim or [officially],” he wrote. Fleming said the consensus was that the future CEO would “enhance and expand the foundations and programs [Jones] helped to create with the people.”

“We’re hoping the next CEO is as open, accessible, and innovative like Mr. Jones,” Fleming added. “We lost another good guy.”

Jones was respected and liked by many in the community, including members of the housing authority board. Member Meghan Harte told The Chicago Tribune that the board supported Jones’ leadership.

“He had the full faith and support of the board,” Harte said. “I would go so far as to say the board has never been as effective as it is right now and it’s because of Gene’s leadership. He made our job easy. I think all of our board members have a lot of respect for Gene and thought he was doing a great job.”

Others were not quite as enamored with his work at the CHA. Chicago resident Sandra Edwards told The Chicago Tribune that she struggled during Jones’ leadership. After a seven-year wait for a housing voucher, she could not find an apartment within the agency’s 90-day window. Ultimately, she sued the agency for more time.

“The door was closing on me and it was closing fast — I blame him for that,” she told the newspaper. “I’m not much of an opinionated or judgmental person, but I don’t think he was right for this job. I’m going to watch and hope that the next person does a better job.”

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.