• Erin Hegarty
    OCT 07, 2021

    Housing, planning departments and Inspector General set to detail budgets as hearings near a close

    Department of Planning Development Comm. Maurice Cox and Deputy Comm. Eleanor Gorski took flak from aldermen during their budget hearing last year.

    In the penultimate day of departmental budget hearings, leaders of the city’s Department of Housing, Department of Planning and Development and Office of Inspector General are set to detail their 2022 budgets in what will likely be another marathon day of meetings. 

    Department of Housing 

    The Department of Housing is primed to see its spending swell by nearly $33.9 million next year, bringing its budget to about $395.6 million. The funding increase is driven largely by a $46 million spike in Community Development Block Grant money, evened out by a $6.2 million decrease in funding from the Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund and a drop in other grant funding. Tapped by the city to fund new affordable housing development, the Affordable Housing Opportunity fund is fed by “in-lieu-of" fees paid by developers as a way to reduce their inclusion of on-site affordable units in new projects. 

    Under Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposed budget, the housing department would add the equivalent of 11 full-time positions to its employee roll for a new total of 92 full-time positions. 

    The housing department manages the development of affordable housing across the city, provides assistance for homeowners, works to eliminate blight and rehab vacant housing, and leads development of Chicago’s housing policy. 

    Budget documents envision the creation of a new Community Engagement and Racial Equity division under the department in 2022. The new division would be headed by a Managing Deputy Commissioner with a salary of $142,716. Additionally, a new five-employee Policy division would be led by a Director of Planning, Research and Development with a salary of $111,048. 

    At the end of 2020, the City Council approved an ordinance (O2020-2850) legalizing new Additional Dwelling Units in basements, attics and coach houses in five pilot zones. 

    Related: Aldermen approve coach house ordinance; skirmish breaks out over police settlements 

    And aldermen in the spring approved a rewrite (SO2021-1226) of the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance, growing from 10 percent to 20 percent the share of units on which residential developers building in wealthy or gentrifying areas must charge reduced rents. The ordinance also expanded the option to build off-site affordable units and 

    Related: Affordable requirements revamp clears committee, heralding sea change for city housing policy 

    The housing department next year plans to “launch an aggressive strategic plan” examining how residents who do not speak English and people with disabilities can receive information from the department, budget plans show. Housing officials also plan to use a Data Equity Project to examine the department’s “data governance practices” in an effort to help the department better meet its mission. 

    Department of Planning and Development 

    The city’s Department of Planning and Development is set to see its budget drop from $176.5 million this year to nearly $162.4 million in 2022. Despite the funding decrease, the department would gain the equivalent of six full-time employees for a total of 175 positions, budget documents show.  

    The department’s budget decrease is due largely to a more than $12.3 million drop in money from the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, which pays for business loans on the South and West Side by charging downtown developers for density bonuses. 

    Chicago’s planning and development department administers the city’s zoning ordinance, manages sales of city-owned land, conducts citywide and neighborhood planning initiatives, promotes sustainable growth and helms historic preservation efforts. 

    Last year’s budget hearing for the planning department lasted seven hours, as aldermen took turns jabbing Comm. Maurice Cox for what they chalked up as a lack of communication with the elected officials and their ward offices.  

    Related: Aldermen rail on planning department commissioner for lack of communication, community involvement 

    Planning officials this year worked on the first phase of the “We Will Chicago” citywide plan, which “identified the key planning principles of equity and resiliency and seven core planning pillars,” according to budget documents. 

    RelatedMulti-year ‘We Will’ plan could draw roadmap to future desegregation, officials say 

    The planning department also scored City Council approval for development of the massive 48-acre former Michael Reese Hospital site in Bronzeville.  

    Related: Michael Reese site primed for $97M sale as ‘Bronzeville Lakefront’ edges closer to reality 

    Additionally, the department this year created a volunteer-based Committee on Design. The 24-members committee is tasked with advising city planning officials on “design excellence” for some Chicago developments. 

    Related: Design committee uses first ever meeting to weigh in on proposed two-tower development in Fulton Market 

    The new committee has already caught flak from some aldermen, including Ald. Walter Burnett (27), for delaying development. "They need to speed up development more" instead of "tripping on this design stuff,” Burnett said during a Sept. 24 budget hearing. 

    Next year, planning officials plan to update the city’s land sales policies and procedures to speed up the sale of City-owned sites “for productive private-sector purposes,” according to budget documents. 

    Office of Inspector General 

    The city’s Office of Inspector General would see a nearly 37 percent budget increase under Lightfoot’s proposed 2022 budget, bumping its budget up to nearly $15 million. The inspector’s office is also set to add 12 new full-time equivalent positions, for a total of 115 positions. 

    The office is tasked with conducting “independent, external government performance audits” and investigating allegations of “misconduct, fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement” within the city and among city contractors and vendors, according to budget documents. 

    The proposed budget and staffing increases come as Inspector General Joseph Ferguson is set to leave his post this month after announcing in July he would be stepping down. 

    Related: Ferguson to step down in October after 12 years as city’s top watchdog 

    Ferguson’s replacement has not yet been chosen, but the mayor and City Council have formed a search committee to find the city’s next top watchdog has been formed.  

    Related: Former Rahm policy chief, former Lisa Madigan deputy on tap for IG search committee 

    The inspector’s office is primed to a see a nearly $3 million hike in spending on “contractual services” under Lightfoot’s proposed budget. The office would add a “Complaint Intake Specialist - IGO” position to its Investigations division. 

    The office plans next year to launch an automated filing and tracking system for contractor reporting, residency and filing for secondary employment.  

    Ferguson during last year’s five-hour budget hearing slammed Chicago Police Department leaders for slow progress on meeting deadlines for its federally-imposed consent decree. 

    Related: City Inspector General criticizes Chicago Police Department for lack of progress on consent decree 

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