CHICAGO — Affordable housing activists barged into the ward offices of two Chicago aldermen Wednesday, demanding action on an affordable housing ordinance.
About 25 protesters entered Ald. James Cappleman's 46th Ward Office at 4544 N. Broadway in Uptown around noon and refused to leave, demanding that Cappleman sign a letter asking the City Council to call the Keeping The Promise Ordinance up for a vote.
The group held signs up to the window, chanted and occupied the office's lobby as ward workers busied themselves behind desks.
Cappleman was in the Uptown office when the group arrived, but left and drove away, activists said. They said he told them he wanted the Office of Business and Professional People for the Public Interest — which bills itself as an independent public interest law and policy center — to sign off on the ordinance first, said Debra Miller of the Jane Addams Senior Caucus.
"We're here because Ald. Cappleman has been a sponsor of the ordinance for three years. We've tried to bring it to a vote several times," Miller said.
About a dozen protesters also flooded Ald. Walter Burnett Jr.'s 27th Ward office at 4 N. Western Ave. on the Near West Side Wednesday afternoon, according to a Burnett spokeswoman. After the protesters left, "everything went on as normal," she said.
Cappleman and Burnett are two of 27 aldermen who are sponsoring the Keeping the Promise ordinance. The list also includes 47th Ward Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) and Ald. Harry Osterman (48th).
The goals of the ordinance include integrating public housing into low-poverty areas; preventing further loss of affordable housing by replacing each unit lost; providing resources to enforce fair housing laws and improving the CHA's efficiency, transparency and fiscal accountability, according to Chicago Housing Initiative's website.
The Office of Business and Professional People for the Public Interest has said the policy will hurt public housing in the city, while the advocates disagree.
"We've met with them and amended our ordinance," Miller said. "They can't tell public housing advocates and tenants that they know better. They've always been our opponents."
Burnettt said that while he generally supports the goals of the proposed ordinance, he believes there is more work to be done to gain aldermanic support ahead of a vote. The veteran alderman said he working with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office to facilitate a meeting between the group and top aides soon.
"They want to fight to bring this to committee, but we want to make sure it can get the votes," Burnett said.
Cappleman issued the following statement:
"According to the Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, an organization that has a long history of being critical of CHA, the Keeping the Promise Ordinance, as it is currently written, would slow down efforts to build more affordable housing. With the passage of such an ordinance, the ones paying the cost would be the CHA residents who would then have fewer services in place due to the Ordinance’s demands. I will not stand for that.
"I was an original signer for the Keeping the Promise Ordinance because it was clear to me that CHA needed to be held accountable for providing more affordable housing by spending down their huge cash reserves. I was relieved to hear that CHA will be spending down its cash reserves this year to the lowest amount allowed by law to provide more affordable housing for so many Chicagoans in need. However, we cannot take them at their word.
"I have asked for Jane Addams Senior Caucus and the Business and Professional People for the Public Interest to sit down with Chairman Joe Moore, myself, and some of my colleagues to work out a better ordinance that will hold CHA accountable to their promise of spending down their reserves. ...
"I’ve gone on record many times pushing for more affordable housing in the City of Chicago. I’m proud that Uptown has led the charge with more government affordable housing than any community area in the City. We’re proud to take the lead and we continue to ask other communities to step up as well."
Ben Goldsmith, who's been vocal in the affordable housing fight on the Northwest Side, said he was "disappointed" by the alderman's response, considering he's asked other wards to step up.
"I want him to know we're answering his call. I don't understand how he can ask us to do our part and turn on the ordinance, a tool that does that," said Goldsmith of Neighbors for Affordable Housing in Jefferson Park.