by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer

CHICAGO (CBS)– The City Council has approved an ordinance to freeze all building demolitions in an area near the popular 606 trail for six months, in a bid by local aldermen to address gentrification in their neighborhoods.

The measure sponsored by Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) and Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) sponsored the ordinance, which they said is aimed at providing a temporary halt to gentrification in the area, while the city studies more nuanced long-term solutions.

The ordinance 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.

People who live in the Logan Square neighborhood, one of a handful that border the 606, said home prices have skyrocketed since the popular trail was completed in 2016, forcing many longtime residents out.

Gary Jimenez, 19, said his family lived in the Logan Square neighborhood for 10 years, and he was looking forward to the 606 as a place to run and play with his friends, but his parents were forced to move in 2015 — even before the trail was completed — because their landlord raised their rent by $500.

“Our rent went from the hundreds to the thousands, and there’s no way my parents could afford that, so we had to move out,” he said.

Some building groups, however, have warned the measure could violate property rights, and have asked aldermen to quickly form a group to find a better solution.

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.

The City Council Housing Committee approved the measure Wednesday morning, sending the ordinance to the full City Council, which unanimously approved it without debate Wednesday afternoon.

Ramirez-Rosa has 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.

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.

A look at the number of newer high-end homes and condos beside the area’s traditional housing stock only begins to illustrate the staggering rise in property values.

On the western edge of the 606, a DePaul University study has estimated property values for buildings with four units or less rose 344%, from $97,000 in 2012 to $430,500 in 2018; a rise also reflected in rents.

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.

Maldonado and Ramirez-Rosa originally sought a 14-month moratorium, which also would have covered new construction permits, and zoning changes within a larger area near the 606.

However, Mayor Lori Lightfoot raised 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 last week.

The mayor said the new version of the ordinance addressed her concerns, paving the way for Wednesday’s approval.

The mayor’s office said it 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,” Mayoral spokeswoman Lauren Huffman wrote in an email.

In other City Council business on Wednesday, aldermen also approved:

  • Extending the hours food trucks may operate in one location from two hours to four hours;
  • Moving nearly $19 million from the city’s LED streetlight program to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners to pay for new touchscreen voting equipment;
  • Allowing the Chicago Cubs to sell hard liquor at their outdoor plaza next to Wrigley Field, in addition to beer and wine;
  • The confirmation of the mayor’s appointments of Gia Biagi as her new Transportation Commissioner and Dr. Alison Arwady as her Health Commissioner;
  • A $300,000 settlement for Chicago Police Officer Kelly Hespe, who accused a supervisor of sexual harassment and abuse;
  • A $500,000 settlement for Andy Jardinas, who accused police of shoving him to the ground while he was still handcuffed in a police lockup, causing severe head injuries;
  • A $150,000 settlement with Travon Gardner and his sister, Treonia Gardner, who say two police officers choked and beat Travon, and smashed Treonia’s cell phone for recording the officers, after police pulled Travon over in 2016;

The council also rejected a $125,000 settlement with Alma Benitez, a witness to the shooting of Laquan McDonald, who has said police pressured her to change her story. City lawyers will now try to negotiate a lower settlement.