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Uptown Affordable Housing: Residents Want Fewer Platitudes, More Promises

By Josh McGhee | March 10, 2017 9:16am
 A 197-unit development with retail shops is planned for the northeast corner of Broadway and Wilson Avenue.
A 197-unit development with retail shops is planned for the northeast corner of Broadway and Wilson Avenue.
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DNAinfo/Josh McGhee

UPTOWN — City Gold Jewelry has called the corner of northeast Broadway and Wilson Avenue home for more than thirty years.

But the last two years have been "miserable" for the small business located inside City Sports, 4601 N. Broadway, as the Wilson Station Reconstruction project has often closed the small stretch of Uptown to traffic, said owner Joey Oh.

"The past two years the construction has closed the road for six months, from October 2015 to April 2016, and also for four months, from November 2016 through February 2017," Oh said. "The road just recently opened up for travel."

"These months are the busiest shopping seasons — Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, tax returns — but because of CTA construction we’ve missed the last two years of the busiest shopping season and many possible customers."

As the owner of the shop for the last two decades, Oh has enjoyed watching his customers grow from teenagers to parents, but the future of his shop is uncertain as sales have dropped 30 to 40 percent, he said.

Small Businesses Worry

The proposal of a 197-unit development with retail shops on the corner has left even more uncertainty, he said.

"Many of our customers have been asking us when City Gold is moving or closing, but I couldn’t answer their questions because I haven’t been informed by the building owner, developer or the 46th Ward," Oh said at a Town Hall meeting Wednesday with Ald. James Cappleman (46th).

"I have just been telling my customers [that] if I’m able to, I would like to reopen at the same building. I’m still uncertain about my situation because no one has contacted me or informed me," he said.

[46th Ward Town Hall meeting Wednesday night. DNAinfo/Josh McGhee]

The meeting, which was hosted by ONE Northside at the Buddhist Temple of Chicago, 1151 W. Leland Ave., put Cappleman in the hot seat to answer questions about the 46th Ward's future from business owners, activists and residents of the community.

Topics in the two-hour meeting ranged from affordable housing, police accountability and luxury development in the heart of Uptown.

While Cappleman gave a "resounding yes" to many questions about protecting affordable housing and low-income residents, details were vague. He was unable to give a timeline for the 197-unit development, which was approved by the 46th Ward Zoning and Development Committee in July 2016.

The proposal still needs approval from the City's Zoning Committee, Planning and Development Committee and City Council, Cappleman said.

While he couldn't provide details on the timeline, he did promise "to fight" for a contract giving small business owners priority to return to the new retail spaces or receive compensation for being moved.

"As far as fighting for these small businesses, of course I’ll [fight] and I’ll do that with our chamber. I think small businesses are the livelihood of Uptown. [The businesses] make Uptown, Uptown," he said.

Uptown's Affordable Housing Crisis
Residents at the meeting kept reasserting the need for affordable housing to be a consideration in this development and future projects int he neighborhood.

"It's very clear there is a crisis in the lack of affordable housing especially for individuals who earn less than 30 percent of the area median income. For a single individual that would be about $16,150" a year, said Cappleman, adding he was working with the city to push for more affordable housing for "at least those earning under 15 percent of the area median income — those are the people living under the viaducts."

[Ald. James Cappleman talks development in Uptown at Wilson Station Thursday. DNAinfo/Josh McGhee]

Cappleman has consistently pushed for funding the Low Income Housing Trust Fund as his preferred method of expanding affordable housing in the neighborhood. The fund's mission is to provide "permanent housing" for the city's very low-income residents or those earning less than the area median income, according to the city's website.

While it's designed to "serve working households, the disabled, the elderly and countless homeless individuals and families," it's a complicated process that doesn't guarantee more affordable units in Uptown or the 46th Ward.

The trust fund was first established in the late 80s by housing activists angered by the demolition of single room occupancy hotels on the West Side to make room for a development with few units available for low-income residents, according to its website.

When developers fund the Low-Income Housing Trust Fund, they're actually paying an "in-lieu fee" required by the Affordable Requirements Ordinance that allows them to opt out of providing low-cost units. Those fees are collected in the Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund and 50 percent is given to the Low-Income Housing Trust Fund, according to the ordinance.

Otherwise developers must offer 10 percent of units as affordable housing.

Between 2005 and 2015, developers, mostly with properties in Wrigleyville, River North and downtown, paid $77 million to withhold affordable units from their buildings, according to WBEZ, which mapped the developments who paid into the fund.

Though the funds don't flow directly from developers into the surrounding neighborhood, Uptown does receive a good chunk of money from the Low-Income Housing Trust Fund.

In 2016, the neighborhood received $1.8 million from the fund that went toward 423 apartments, according to numbers obtained by DNAinfo via a Freedom of Information Request.

Hope For A Moratorium Fades

For residents at the Town Hall meeting looking for answers about the future of affordable housing in the neighborhood, some say they left empty-handed. Their ultimate goal was to secure a moratorium on luxury developments until the 46th ward plan was revised, but that request was denied.

The alderman "said all these great things about housing... that we needed more affordable housing. He advocated for a lot of things, [but] I wanted to hear him say that he was going to put a moratorium on new developments in this ward until we came up with a new vision based on a needs assessment," said Dorothy Bowser.

"He said he would put no halt on the new developments, which is really disappointing because that means he's going to keep saying yes to these new buildings that have a very, very low amount of affordable housing," she said.

Of the 197 units in the proposal at Broadway and Wilson Avenue, only five will be designated as affordable units. Instead, developers will give about $1.5 million ($100,000 per unit) to the Low Income Housing Trust Fund to satisfy the requirement necessary for the zoning change, developers said last year.

About five years ago, Bowser moved to a section 8 building in the 4500 block of North Malden Avenue, but its future is now also uncertain.

"I heard that building is going to be sold, so this is really dear to my heart right now because what's going to happen with that building and all the tenants that live there, including myself?" she said.