APR 21, 2021
Affordable requirements revamp clears committee, heralding sea change for city housing policy
A years-in-the-making push to rewrite Chicago’s highest-profile affordable housing policy cleared a key hurdle on Tuesday, setting up Mayor Lori Lightfoot for a significant victory as she faces mounting headwinds across a range of other issues.
Aldermen on the City Council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate voted 14-3 to advance Lightfoot’s proposed overhaul (SO2021-1226) of the Affordable Requirements Ordinance. If approved by the full council on Wednesday, the update will go into effect on Oct. 1, ushering in the third iteration of the policy created in 2007 and updated in 2015.
The committee took the vote during a reconvened meeting following chair Ald. Harry Osterman’s (48) decision to recess last Thursday’s meeting as the city reacted to footage of Chicago Police fatally shooting 13-year-old Adam Toledo.
Before Osterman gaveled the meeting out on Thursday, housing department Comm. Marisa Novara told aldermen the overhaul dated back to spring 2019, when she served as a member of Lightfoot’s transition team. The “single biggest” request Novara’s team heard was an “urgent request to strengthen” the ordinance, which the department has credited for the creation of fewer than 1,300 new affordable units since 2007.
Lightfoot had promised during her campaign to revisit the policy and her transition team recommended in its May 2019 report that her administration consider “impactful changes,” including by studying the “feasibility of affordable percentage increases” in new developments. Tuesday’s vote notched a key item off the mayor’s list of housing-related campaign promises, even as other goals — like reforming the city’s zoning rules and instituting a graduated tax on property sales to pay for homelessness services — have lost momentum.
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The revised ordinance requires residential developers to charge reduced rents on at least 20 percent of all the units they propose in new developments in wealthy or gentrifying parts of the city, up from the existing 10 percent citywide designation. The freshly designated “community preservation areas” and “inclusionary housing areas” would expand and replace the three “pilot zones” developed in 2017 to crank up requirements on new development on the city’s Near West and Near Northwest Sides.
Following recommendations published by a 20-member task force last year, housing department policy director Daniel Hertz said Tuesday that officials aimed to replace the ordinance’s “pilot-based approach” with a “citywide lens of 'what kinds of neighborhoods do we want to be targeting with the [ordinance], and how do we want to tailor [it] to match the market conditions and the needs of each community?”
Hertz added on Tuesday that housing officials had calculated the “preservation” areas to target areas with a “significant low-income population” that showed “evidence of displacement as a result of rising prices.”
Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22) said his constituent “organizing groups” were “fairly split” over the proposal, in part because it would not apply the higher affordability rules to Little Village. But after Hertz committed to revisiting the map after the Pilsen/Little Village Affordable Requirements “pilot zone” expires at the end of 2023, Rodriguez said he was “driven to vote in support.”
The ordinance fell short of demands by the Chicago Housing Initiative and other organizers, who called for a requirement that all new developments that trigger the ordinance include “family-sized” units. The initiative backed a more stringent alternative plan, the Chicago Inclusive Housing Ordinance (O2020-5711), introduced late last year by Ald. Maria Hadden (49).
The ordinance advanced on Tuesday incentivizes developers to include larger affordable units on-site, but it does not require them. It does mandate that all off-site affordable units include at least two bedrooms.
“Unfortunately we fell a bit short of where I think we should be to address some of the issues, but I would recognize there’s certainly a lot of progress in this” over the city’s existing rules, Hadden said before voting against the measure on Tuesday.
Similarly, Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25), who co-chaired the task force assembled to revisit the ordinance, said he was “disappointed” that city housing officials had settled on its final version of the ordinance when “we are within reach of a very good agreement.”
“We would like a little bit more time if that’s possible, instead of rushing this,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “Being so close to a good deal, we’re missing an opportunity for family-sized units.”
Novara said her team left an on-site family-sized unit requirement out of the ordinance after deciding the mandate would be “cost-prohibitive” for many developers.
“It’s a challenge for us to mandate something across the board where if you’ve got a high-rise building, we are not paying for what it costs to realign the plumbing lines and…walls to add three-bedroom units.”
Sigcho-Lopez joined Hadden and Anthony Napolitano (41), who otherwise did not speak on Tuesday, in voting against the ordinance.
However, Ald. Daniel La Spata (1), Ald. Matt Martin (47) and Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26), who supported Hadden’s competing plan, also voted in favor of the mayor’s ordinance on Tuesday.
“There is no perfect affordable housing tool, but this represents an incredible step forward in how inclusionary housing functions in Chicago,” La Spata said before casting his “yes” vote.
Maldonado said he was in “full support” of the ordinance. He highlighted its removal of the requirement that off-site affordable units be built within two miles of each triggering project, saying that widening the range to cover all gentrifying areas would “positively affect the further development of affordable housing in the 26th Ward.”
Before Osterman recessed the meeting last Thursday, the committee approved an ordinance (O2021-1210) authorizing the city to sell a 10.8-acre parcel at the intersection of 31st Street and Kedzie Avenue to the Chicago Southwest Development Corporation for $5 million. The developer plans to build a new home for St. Anthony Hospital on the site.
Finally on Tuesday, committee members unanimously voted to advance a proposal (O2019-9465) by Ald. Raymond Lopez (15) to narrow the qualifications for property owners who may participate in the city’s Large Lot program. Lopez said the ordinance will bring the program “back to its original intent, which is to sell parcels of city-owned property to real people,” rather than organizations of shell companies.
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