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Anti-Gentrification Plan Moves Forward, But Many Neighborhoods Left Out

By Heather Cherone | September 25, 2017 3:38pm | Updated on September 29, 2017 11:41am
 West Loop Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) lead the push for the measure, which ran into opposition from aldermen who said it would not ensure that more affordable apartments would be built to house families struggling to stay in Chicago.
West Loop Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) lead the push for the measure, which ran into opposition from aldermen who said it would not ensure that more affordable apartments would be built to house families struggling to stay in Chicago.
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

CITY HALL — An effort backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel designed to force developers of large projects in neighborhoods with red-hot real estate markets to build more affordable apartments advanced Monday despite a skirmish between aldermen over the effort to stop gentrification.

West Loop Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) and Logan Square Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) lead the push for the measure, which ran into opposition from aldermen who said it would not ensure that more affordable apartments would be built to house families struggling to stay in Chicago.

If approved Oct. 11 by the full City Council, the measure would short circuit another measure that sought to curb gentrification along the 606 Trail. That measure — which never even received a hearing — would have charged developers hefty fees to demolish residential buildings along the western portion of the trail without building homes for low-income Chicagoans.

Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifman said the measure was the city's best chance of "advancing the ball" on affordability while avoiding a court challenge from developers reluctant to add costs to projects.

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.

Applications that trigger the affordable housing ordinance have increased 103 percent between 2014 and 2016, officials said.

The changes made in 2015 "did not go far enough to offset the flip side of the boom — the displacement of long time residents," Reifman said.

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, Reifman said.

The goal of the three-year pilot program is to create another 1,000 affordable housing units, Reifman 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.

The council's Committee on Housing and Real Estate advanced the Miliwaukee Corridor program over the objections of 35th Ward Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa even though 60 percent of his ward is included in the pilot program.


Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) spoke at a news conference before the committee meeting held by opponents of the measure. [DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]

"This will not solve the problem of gentrification," Ramirez-Rosa said, adding that he expected the "vast majority" of the affordable units created will be studios that rent for as much as $800 per month.

That won't help families that need affordable two, three and four bedroom apartments, Ramirez-Rosa said.

"That twists the definition of gentrification," Ramirez-Rosa said

Ramirez-Rosa's effort to delay a vote on the proposal failed.

Reifman told aldermen the pilot program was not designed to encourage the creation of large affordable housing units, which could be tackled with other programs.

Ald. Scott Waguespack said he did not want the 32nd Ward included in the pilot program, which would cover about 60 percent of residential land along The 606 trail.

However, Burnett said he was hopeful that the pilot program would help him "keep a balance" in the booming West Loop by giving him "more leverage" with developers.

"It will have a chain reaction into other wards," Burnett said.

Ald. John Arena (45th) said the Milwaukee Avenue corridor should be extended to include the area around Six Corners in Portage Park and the Jefferson Park Transit Center, where development is picking up speed — and several large pieces of property are expected to be redeveloped in the near future.

"We have the opportunity to test whether we can stop gentrification before the train leaves the station," Arena said.

However, during a tense back-and-forth with Arena, Reifman said city data did not support including Jefferson Park and Portage Park in the pilot program.

Burnett reacted angrily to Arena's comments, noting that he supported Arena when hundreds of people packed into a Zoning Committee hearing to fight a plan for a storage facility and mixed-income apartments in Jefferson Park.

"We are talking about my ward," Burnett said. "If you mess with my ward, I'm going to mess with your ward. Don't be messing with my stuff. Leave my ward alone."

The council's unwritten rules give aldermen the ultimate authority over developments in their own wards.

Under the city's law, at least 25 percent of the required affordable units must be included as part of the project. 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.

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.