Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chicago Nonprofit Exec Salary Scrutinized in Tribune

How much is too much?  When it comes to salaries for nonprofit executives the answer is complicated.  

The Chicago Tribune published a lengthy "watchdog" article today, discussing the rules and norms of compensation for nonprofit executives while focusing on compensation paid to the president of the Chicago Dwellings Association - $685,000 in 2008.

CDA is a nonprofit housing development firm, created by the city of Chicago over 60 years ago to provide affordable housing.  Christine Oliver has been with CDA since 1991.  Since 2001 Oliver's compensation rose more than $300,000, and in 2008 Christine Oliver was paid $685,000 by CDA and its management firm. (She received even more - $725,000 - in 2005.)  A former board member, who left the board in 2001, said he was shocked by the salary and certainly would not have voted for it.
The article presents some interesting information:  

  • The board of CDA has only three members, a number permitted by Illinois statutes but small for an organization of this sort.  Oliver is one of the three members.
  • Housing and nonprofit experts say Oliver's salary is three times that paid to CEOs of other local nonprofit housing development corporations. According to Guidestar data, median income for executives running Chicago housing or shelter nonprofits in 2007 was 129,358.
  • In 2007 a Northbrook (Chicago suburb) low-income housing nonprofit paid its CEO $575,000.  A director for that foundation explained that low-income housing was only a small portion of the projects of the foundation, which also manages trust funds and investments.  That foundation brought in outside consultants to set the salary.
  • Oliver borrowed nearly $500,000 to buy housing for herself (it is unknown which of her three homes - a house on the north shore, a condo in Lincoln Park, or a condo in Florida -  she bought with the loan).
  • Residents in some of the buildings managed by the CDA are upset about the condition of the buildings - holes that aren't fixed, rats, mice, cockroaches, and dirty common areas.  One resident has sued CDA for chronic problems - broken elevators, mice infestations, and a dirty air ventilation system.
  • The city sued CDA last June for 20 building code violations but dropped the suit after the violations were fixed.
  • The CDA commented that "Oliver took CDA from the brink of bankruptcy and built it into a self-sustaining, financially stable organization that funds research and sponsors conferences on affordable housing."
  • CDA also says the IRS audited CDA in 2005-2007 and found no problems with Oliver's salary. 

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