Belmont Club

A walk in the Parc

When I asked my wife who Valerie Jarrett was she immediately produced the October issue of Vogue, a magazine which in its own way covers events more deeply than the Washington Post. The first paragraph begins:

One day in the summer of 1991, when Valerie Jarrett was Chicago mayor Richard Daley’s deputy chief of staff, the woman who worked in the office next door to Jarrett handed her the resume of one Michelle La Vaughn Robinson. … On the cover letter, someone at City Hall had written something like THIS WOMAN IS NO LONGER INTERESTED IN BEING AT HER LAW FIRM. SHE WANTS TO BE IN GOVERNMENT AND GIVE BACK.

Michelle La Vaughn Robinson of course, is now Michelle Obama and Valerie Jarrett is now Barack Obama’s senior White House adviser. The Vogue article passingly mentions Jarrett’s career at the Habitat Company, which she joined after leaving City Hall in 1995 in breatheless terms. But the Boston Globe‘s description of Jarrett’s stint at Habitat is far less flattering.

a Globe review found that thousands of apartments across Chicago that had been built with local, state, and federal subsidies – including several hundred in Obama’s former district – deteriorated so completely that they were no longer habitable.

Grove Parc and several other prominent failures were developed and managed by Obama’s close friends and political supporters. Those people profited from the subsidies even as many of Obama’s constituents suffered. Tenants lost their homes; surrounding neighborhoods were blighted. …

Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama’s presidential campaign and a member of his finance committee. Jarrett is the chief executive of Habitat Co., which managed Grove Parc Plaza from 2001 until this winter and co-managed an even larger subsidized complex in Chicago that was seized by the federal government in 2006, after city inspectors found widespread problems.

The Vogue article continues, “Jarrett gets up between 4:30 and 5:00 A.M. and works out every morning before she heads to Habitat and starts her workday with a scheduled campaign phone call with Obama’s other top advisers, including David Alexrod and David Plouffe. ‘I trust her completely,’ Barack Obama has said. ‘She participates in every conversation we have in the campaign.'” The Globe article on Grove Parc continued:

About 99 of the units are vacant, many rendered uninhabitable by unfixed problems, such as collapsed roofs and fire damage. Mice scamper through the halls. Battered mailboxes hang open. Sewage backs up into kitchen sinks. In 2006, federal inspectors graded the condition of the complex an 11 on a 100-point scale – a score so bad the buildings now face demolition.

Grove Parc has become a symbol for some in Chicago of the broader failures of giving public subsidies to private companies to build and manage affordable housing – an approach strongly backed by Obama as the best replacement for public housing.

May she have better luck in the White House than in low-cost housing.