LOGAN SQUARE — A new measure backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel would force developers of large projects in neighborhoods with red-hot real estate markets to build more affordable apartments in an attempt to combat gentrification.
Set to be introduced Sept. 6 by Emanuel — with the backing of West Loop Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) and Logan Square Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) — the measure would short circuit another measure that sought to curb gentrification along the 606 Trail. That measure would charge developers hefty fees to demolish residential buildings along the western portion of the trail without building homes for low-income Chicagoans.
Since being introduced in May, that proposal — also backed by Moreno — has stalled, despite efforts by local groups to keep it alive with protests.
"Access to affordable housing is critical to Chicago's legacy as one of the world's most livable big cities, especially as the real estate market undergoes unprecedented neighborhood development," Emanuel said. "This initiative will create more affordable units in targeted areas while helping the city to assess the most effective ways of meeting neighborhood affordable housing goals."
In three areas of the city that officials "determined through demographic data to be experiencing gentrification pressures," developers would not be allowed to pay a fee instead of setting aside units for low-income Chicagoans, according to the Mayor's Office.
The goal of the three-year pilot program is to create another 1,000 affordable housing units, officials said.
Those areas are:
• The Milwaukee Corridor, including 9 square miles along Milwaukee Avenue within parts of Logan Square, Avondale and West Town.
• The Near North area, which includes 6 square miles near the North Branch Industrial Corridor
• The Near West area along the CTA Green Line on the Near West Side.
Applications that trigger the affordable housing ordinance have increased 103 percent between 2014 and 2016, officials said.
The mayor's proposal, though, drew immediate fire from 35th Ward Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, who called it "a joke and a handout to developers."
The 35th Ward includes parts of the Hermosa, Logan Square, Avondale, Irving Park and Albany Park neighborhoods.
Ramirez-Rosa took issue with the measure's income limits, saying the new qualification — 80 percent of average median income ($50,600 for a two-person household), up from 60 percent of average median income — won't cater to the working-class people in the area who need affordable housing.
The alderman also slammed the mayor's office for a lack of transparency. Ramirez-Rosa said he first learned of the program a couple of weeks at a meeting with city officials. He said officials told him that the city has been working on the program for about two years without input from him or community groups.
"Why are we now just hearing about this? We have so many active and brilliant community leaders. Why were they not at the table when this started? My hope is that ultimately we will involve the community in crafting a real pilot program," he said.
Moreno shot back at Ramirez-Rosa, saying, "Rather than criticizing and hurling insults, aldermen should acutally engage in the hard work of creating actual affordable housuing units that benefit actual people who need them."
The 1st Ward alderman said the program was "enthusiastically received" by local housing groups such as Bickerdike, Hispanic Housing and LUCHA.
"I am proud to say that the 1st Ward surpasses ALL OTHER WARDS in the number of on-site ARO units (142) that have been created since the inception of the program. I ask those Aldermen who criticize the program, "how many units have you supported/ generated?!," Moreno wrote in a prepared statement.
James Rudyk, executive director for the Northwest Side Housing Center, said while the program is a "step in the right direction," it's not a solution to the city's affordable housing crisis.
"This step is only as successful as the developers who will comply with the ordinance instead of taking the buyout," Rudyk wrote in a prepared statement.
The city's affordable housing ordinance — toughened in 2015 — applies to any development of 10 or more units that needs special approval by city officials, is on city-owned land or is subsidized by taxpayer funds. Each project must set aside 10 percent of its units for low-income residents.
At least 25 percent of those units must be included in the project, under the law. Developers can choose to pay a fee of up to $225,000 per unit instead of building the remaining affordable homes.
Under the proposal, developers in the Milwaukee Corridor and in the Near North/Near West areas would no longer be allowed to pay a fee instead of building units set aside for low-income Chicagoans.
In addition, projects in the Milwaukee Corridor would have to set aside 15 percent of the project's units if those are built as part of the same development. That requirement would increase to 20 percent if a developer opts to build the additional units at another location within the Milwaukee Corridor, according to the proposal.
"This pilot initiative will enhance livability for residents by addressing the specific needs of our community," Moreno said in a statement released by the Mayor's Office. "As our neighborhoods grow, and job opportunities increase, the availability of affordable housing must increase as well."
Near North area
In the Near North area, developers must set side 20 percent of units for Chicagoans earning no more than 60 percent of the area's median income, which is $37,920 for a two-person household. Half of those units must be built as part of the project or within 2 miles, officials said.
The rest could be built anywhere in the Near North area, and Chicagoans earning no more than 100 percent of the area's median income, which is $63,200 for a two-person household, would be eligible to live there, according to the proposal.
Near West area
In the Near West area, developers must set side 15 percent of their units for Chicagoans earning no more than 60 percent of the area's median income. Two-thirds of those units must be built as part of the project or within 2 miles, according to the proposal.
The rest could be built anywhere in the Near West area, and Chicagoans earning 100 percent of the area's median income would be eligible, according to the proposal.
"By improving upon and expanding the [affordable housing ordinance,] we will be able to meet the growing need for affordable housing and create more options for residents, especially those in areas experiencing gentrification pressures," Burnett said in a statement from the Mayor's Office.
The City Council may consider the issue at its October meeting.