by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer
CHICAGO (CBS) — Aldermen whose wards include parts of the popular 606 trail have dramatically scaled back plans for a moratorium on new development in the area, after Mayor Lori Lightfoot criticized their original plan as too broad.
The measure sponsored by Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) and Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) would prevent property owners from obtaining demolition permits within an area near the 606 for six months, starting Feb. 1. The aldermen want to halt the trend of people buying existing affordable multi-family homes and replacing them with luxury housing, pushing out working class and middle class families.
Ramirez-Rosa said displacement of local residents has reached a record pace since the 606 was completed, resulting in under-enrollment at public schools, and local businesses losing clientele.
“I think this is the right policy at this moment to pursue,” he said.
The moratorium would cover an area bounded by Armitage Avenue on the north, Kostner Avenue on the west, Hirsch Street on the south to Kedzie, Kedzie Avenue on the east from Hirsch Street to North Avenue, North Avenue on the south from Kedzie Avenue to California Avenue, and California Avenue on the east from North Avenue to Armitage Avenue.
These are the new boundaries that take the 32nd Ward out of the demolition moratorium area. pic.twitter.com/qmQa0Lnaif
— Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa🌹 (@CDRosa) January 14, 2020
The ordinance would provide exceptions for people seeking demolition permits to build affordable housing, or in emergency situations to address conditions that make a building “dangerous to life, health or property.”
Ramirez-Rosa said, during the six-month moratorium, the city would study possible long-term solutions to gentrification near the 606. He said the community has seen a boom of new luxury housing construction since the popular trail was opened in 2015.
“The 606 was created to expand green space, to expand recreational space in a community that for a very long time has had very little of that. And it was unfortunate that when this green space was created, and when this trail was opened up, immediately we saw land value – and I’m going to say land value, not home value – we saw land value skyrocket,” he said.
Ramirez-Rosa said, almost immediately after the 606 was completed, people began to buy nearby two-flats, three-flats, and four-flats and tearing them down to build luxury single-family homes.
“While I have nothing against a 5,000-square-foot, $1.8 million home – God bless you if you can buy that – I think that, as a city, we need to think seriously about how do we promote integration, how do we address the ugly history of segregation, and how do we ensure that we have a housing stock in our communities that supports that, that supports families being able to afford to live there,” he said.
Maldonado said he hopes to use the six-month moratorium to come up with long-term solutions to the area’s affordable housing crisis and gentrification issues.
He also noted there are more than 100 vacant lots in the affected area, but that the moratorium would not prevent developers from building whatever they want on those sites, as long as they meet zoning restrictions.
“We hope that within these next six months, we can come up with an ordinance that will truly address how those lots would be built, so that the developments would be sensitive with the needs of the long-time residents, and somehow slow down the gentrification and the displacement of people of color by people that are not of color and that are much more affluent than the working families that live in those areas,” Maldonado said.
The compromise ordinance does not include any grandfather clause that would allow anyone currently in the process of purchasing property in the area to obtain a demolition permit during the moratorium, if they’re buying a home to tear it down and replace it.
The aldermen’s original plan would have imposed a 14-month moratorium on demolition permits and new construction permits in a larger area around the 606, except in emergency situations. It also would have halted all zoning changes for 14 months.
Last week, the mayor said she had “a number of concerns” about the original ordinance, suggesting it was too broad and the moratorium period was “inordinately long.”
“We need to use a surgical knife and not a club,” she said.
It appears the mayor will support the new ordinance as a temporary measure.
Tuesday afternoon, a City Hall source said the Lightfoot administration viewed the new version of the ordinance “as a stop-gap measure rather than a permanent solution.”
“We were willing to work with the aldermen because we recognize the urgency of the challenges in this area. The communities along the 606 have experienced some of the most rapid development in recent years,” the source said.
Assistant Corporation Counsel Rey Phillips Santos, who drafted the compromise ordinance on behalf of the aldermen, said he’s confident it will pass legal muster.
“I don’t have an issue with the legality of this. I am quite secure that this ordinance is legal,” he said.
Mayoral spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said the administration looks forward to working with the aldermen, the Chicago Department of Housing, and the mayor’s Inclusionary Housing Task Force develop long-term strategies to address the city’s affordable housing shortage.
““After discussions with the local aldermen, the updated ordinance presented at today’s committee hearing provides a legally defensible, but a temporary path to allow for a more comprehensive means to address affordable housing preservation along the 606 trail. Importantly, this latest version includes a shorter timeframe for a moratorium on demolitions only and narrower geography, while preventing a unilateral ban on zoning approvals in order to preserve the rights of existing property owners in the area,” Huffman wrote in an email.
The City Council Housing Committee is scheduled to vote on the new version of the ordinance when it meets on Wednesday at 9 a.m. The full City Council could then vote on the measure when it meets later Wednesday morning.