Housing on State, City Agendas


All I can say is that it had to happen. Finally, one of our local aldermen came forth to do something positive about affordable housing. It also looks like we are going in a positive direction statewide with the establishment of a body to which activists will finally be able to address directly their concerns about affordable housing. In the last RJ, I tried to direct your attention towards some of the problems we’re up against regarding the zoning code re-write.

What we are expecting now is that the new re-write will appear for a vote before the Chicago City Council this summer, around June 2003. Pete Skosey from the Metropolitan Planning Council chimed into the process with these words, “What we have to understand is that zoning cannot be the solution for everything. Zoning cannot affect the economics of the property.

One cannot say, ‘OK, I am going to land zone this district for something that will only sell for five dollars.’ But what you can do is that you can zone for a variety. You can zone for a range, and I think that is really the strongest tool that zoning has to address affordability.”

An alternative view was put forth by Bob Palmer from the Statewide Housing Action Council (SHAC). Referring to Skosey’s views, Palmer declared, “That is a very narrow definition of zoning. Whether we call it inclusionary zoning or set asides, the key issue is whether or not developers have a responsibility to provide affordable housing if the benefits outweigh the costs. And, in a number of states, I think the courts have ruled that they do.”

Meanwhile, Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4) recently put forth a new affordable housing ordinance before the city council. Preckwinkle’s ordinance “is meant to increase the number of affordable housing units available to a cross section of economic levels in the city.”

“We want those who are police officers, waiters, salesmen and others who work in the city to be able to rent and own property here,” said Al Kindle, Preckwinkle’s chief of staff. However, before the city council votes, the ordinance will go before a committee chaired by Ald. Ray Suarez (31).

It is this committee that will first study Preckwinkle’s ordinance to determine if it may be then voted on by the city council. Towards the end of January, I learned that Mayor Richard M. Daley recently introduced an ordinance that authorizes $2 million in HOME funds to expand the coffers of the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund for use in the Affordable Rents for Chicago (ARC) program.

This figure is up from $1.5 million, according to Department of Housing spokesperson Janina Castillo. The fund is meant to provide support for the disabled, elderly, the homeless and other low-income families whose income meet the criterion of being at or below 30 percent of the median income.

The median income for the area is approximately $60,000 a year for a family of four.

There are other developments at the state level. After a yearlong process of various meetings with lawmakers and activists, the state House of Representatives voted to establish a committee to deal directly with housing issues statewide.

This means that housing activists will now have a specific body at the level of the state legislature to whom they may direct their concerns. Judy Meima, executive director of the Statewide Housing Action Coalition, told me there were four meetings held statewide, where state representatives listened to testimony and discussed their relevant research.

Meima had this to say about the success of those meetings: “This committee comes out of the recognition that not enough is being done for housing statewide. After they (state representatives) took a comprehensive look at housing gaps in Illinois, they determined there was a crisis in Illinois.” The committee is still in formulation but state Julie Hamos (D-Chicago) is the chairperson.

“One of the greatest issues that has come up in meetings at which hundreds of people attended this fall throughout the state,” Meima said, “is that we are not doing enough to serve the poorest of the poor.” Meima said that governmental programs slated to address the needs of the poor in our society have not gone far enough to deal with that level of poverty in society. The level of poverty activists are primarily concerned about at this point are those residents statewide whose incomes are below 30 percent of the median income.

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