CHICAGO (CBS) — Developers in the Woodlawn neighborhood would be required to include more affordable housing units in projects near the proposed Obama Presidential Center, as part of a compromise between Mayor Lori Lightfoot, local aldermen, and community organizations.
“This ordinance will go a long way in maintaining and developing a wide range of housing options for renters, homeowners and investors for our South Side neighborhoods,” said Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), who is co-sponsoring the ordinance.
Fellow co-sponsor Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th), who had vowed to block an earlier proposal from the mayor to protect affordable housing near the Obama Center, said the measure introduced to the City Council on Wednesday still doesn’t go far enough, but is a good first step toward protecting the Woodlawn neighborhood from gentrification.
“This is a bittersweet day. Without the coalition and the community being able to come together, this ordinance wouldn’t have came to light,” Taylor said outside City Hall before Wednesday’s council meeting. “While this is a step in the right direction, we’ve got a long way to go. This does not stop displacement. This is a small step in the right direction.”
The compromise ordinance would require 30% of the units in any residential development on 52 vacant lots owned by the city to be set aside for people earning between 30% and 50% of the area’s median income.
Those 52 parcels represent a quarter of the 208 vacant lots the city owns in Woodlawn.
For the remaining city-owned lots, whenever the city sells the land, developers building residential projects with 15 or more units would have to set aside at least 20% of the units for households with incomes of no more than 80% of the area’s median income; with at least 5% set aside for households with an income of no more than 50% of the area’s median income, and another 5% set aside for households with an income of no more than 30% of the area’s median income. For projects with 6 to 14 units, developers would have to set aside at least 10% of the units for households with incomes of no more than 80% of the area’s median income.
The new version of the ordinance also would provide $1.5 million to the Preservation of Existing Affordable Rentals program, which offers financial assistance to landlords for the purchase or refinancing of apartment buildings in exchange for a commitment to keep units affordable for 30 years. At least 10% of units would have to be affordable to tenants who earn no more than 30% of the area’s median income, and another 10% of units would have to be affordable to renters who earn no more than 50% of the area’s median income.
In addition, Woodlawn residents who have owned their home for five years or more, and earn no more than 120% of the area’s median income could apply for $20,000 grants to repair their homes. The ordinance would provide $1 million for that Woodlawn Long-term Homeowner Home Improvement Grant program.
The measure also would provide $500,000 for the Renew Woodlawn program to help low- and moderate-income residents purchase homes. Another $1.5 million would go to the Woodlawn Loan Fund, to help finance the purchase and renovation of vacant units to create more affordable housing.
Tenants in existing apartment buildings in Woodlawn also would be given the chance to buy their building before their landlord puts it up for sale. Owners of buildings with 10 or more units would have to notify tenants 30 days before putting their property up for sale, and allow tenants 90 days to make an offer to purchase the building.
“From the beginning, we have been committed to making residents the focal point of this legislation – bringing hundreds of renters, homeowners and other stakeholders to the table,” Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara said in a statement. “And together we have created an ordinance to ensure that everyone who lives in Woodlawn – both renters and homeowners – is able to stay and share in the unprecedented potential offered by the Obama Presidential Center.”
Lightfoot’s office said the mayor’s staff worked closely with Hairston, Taylor, and various community activists to craft a feasible plan to promote development in Woodlawn in a fair and equitable manner, while protecting existing residents from being forced out.
“Since day one, our efforts have been focused on building economic growth and cultural enrichment in the Woodlawn community while also ensuring that every neighborhood resident is able to stay in their homes and share the transformative promise by the Obama Presidential Center,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “This groundbreaking ordinance is a testament to our partnership with Ald. Taylor, Ald. Hairston and Woodlawn’s residents in a collective effort to prevent displacement.”
Sharon Payne, a member of Southside Together Organizing for Power, called the ordinance “one of the most significant and aggressive affordable housing policies won in Chicago’s recent memory.”
“As it stands, this ordinance has the potential to stop the displacement of thousands of low-income and working class Black residents who live near the future Obama Presidential Center,” she said.
Ebonee Green, an organizer with Black Youth Project 100 and the Obama CBA Coalition, called the compromise “a win for the people.”
“This city was built with Black labor, it was built with Brown labor, it was built by immigrants, it was built by migrants from all over this country. We cannot do a disservice, and we will not do a disservice to the people who live here by displacing them for wealthier people who have no care for the history of this city,” she said. “We will not allow anything to stand in the way to protect the families that live in this city.”
Taylor said she will continue to press for additional protections. Specifially, she said she wants a guaranteed “right to return” for any residents who are displaced by the Obama Presidential Center, as well as a requirement that new businesses that come to the neighborhood pay into a “trust fund” to help preserve and promote affordable housing in the area.
“Those businesses that are going to come to our community are only coming because of the OPC. They should pay. You didn’t want to come to our community before, now you want to come. So you should be able to put money into a pot that protects homeowners and renters in our community,”
The Obama Presidential Center is still awaiting final approval from the federal government before construction begins.