• Erin Hegarty
    MAR 09, 2023

    Aldermen give initial OK to allocating $20M in state funding to help asylum seekers

    Aldermen meet in council chambers Wednesday. [Erin Hegarty/The Daily Line]

    Aldermen in two separate committees on Wednesday approved measures that if approved by City Council next week will allocate $20 million in state funding for asylum seekers and several other proposals to sell city-owned land. 

    Aldermen during Wednesday’s meeting of the Committee on Budget and Government Operations approved a $20 million allocation of state grant funds for the city’s Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) to help recently arrived asylum seekers with housing, food and services.  

    According to DFSS, $16 million of the grant funding will go toward staffing, $2.4 million will go toward food and $1.6 million will be put toward lodging.  

    The city initially asked the state for $53.5 million but got the $20 million “as a start,” city Budget Director Susie Park told aldermen on Wednesday. The city has also received $5.5 million from the federal government, Park said. The city expects the $20 million will last for three months. 

    Multiple aldermen including Ald. Leslie Hairston (5) and Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22) said there has been a lack of communication between city officials and aldermen about asylum seekers in their wards.  

    Rodriguez said he was recently shocked when he saw a “bus rolling into my local library with what I was certain was immigrants.” Rodriguez said he would like to support the asylum seekers and help them out, but “to not have the communication was really a major miss.” 

    Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25) pointed out the City Council has a Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights and asked why efforts aren't being coordinated with that committee. The immigrant and refugee rights committee was created by Mayor Lori Lightfoot as part of the 2021 budget and is chaired by Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30), who is retiring at the end of this term.  

    Despite receiving $120,465 in funding for this year and $117,000 in 2022, the immigrant and refugee rights committee has not met since September 2021. 

    Related: Taxpayers pay millions for Chicago City Council committees, but some rarely meet 

    Ald. Marty Quinn (13) requested details on how much of the funding would go toward security for the shelters. 

    Quinn, Hairston, Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41) and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42) voted “no” on the ordinance.  

    Housing committee 

    Separately during Wednesday’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate meeting, aldermen unanimously approved a proposal (O2023-814) for the sale and execution of a redevelopment agreement for city-owned property at 5036-5044 S. Prairie Ave. in the 3rd Ward to 5050 Prairie LLC for $300,000. 

    The developer plans to build a 4-story transit-oriented residential building with 49 units and 4,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor. 

    Ald. Pat Dowell (3) spoke in favor of the proposal, saying “this $12 million investment is really the first new construction along 51st Street in a very long time,” and the development “will be joining other investments coming into the 51st Street corridor.” 

    Also in the 3rd Ward, aldermen unanimously approved the sale (O2023-1056) of city property at 5021 S. Wabash Ave. The building is a former Streets and Sanitation field office that has been vacant for more than 10 years.  

    Developer Urban Equities plans to do a gut rehab of the building, raise the ceiling height and construct a new add-on building to accommodate a shared kitchen — Soul City Kitchen. The test kitchen will include 10-12 shared commercial kitchen spaces, and the total project is set to cost more than $8 million.  

    The development is expected to bring 50 construction jobs and five full-time employees.  

    The property’s appraised value is $90,000 but the city plans to sell it for $2. 

    Dowell spoke in support of the development. 

    Despite its dilapidated state, “this is a very handsome historic building along W,” Dowell said, adding that the community “sorely” needs such a kitchen.  

    Aldermen approved all other agenda items included in The Daily Line’s preview of Wednesday's meeting. 

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