CHICAGO (CBS) — The City Council has approved an ordinance designed to protect Woodlawn residents from being forced out of their homes when the Obama Presidential Center is built in Jackson Park, including a requirement that developers include more affordable housing units in future residential construction projects in the area.
The ordinance was the result of months of negotiations between the Lightfoot administration, the two alderwomen who represent Woodlawn, and an alliance of community groups that had been seeking protections from gentrification they expect will be spurred by the Obama Presidential Center.
“This has been a long time coming, but I think that it is the right direction to go,” said Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), one of the two council members who represent Woodlawn.
“Housing in our city is a human right, and we have plenty of organizations and people across the city who have seen investment happen, and people be displaced,” said fellow Woodlawn Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th).
The measure requires 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 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.
The City Council unanimously approved the ordinance on Wednesday.
“This is an innovative and comprehensive measure that will, among other things, protect existing Woodlawn residents from displacement, as well as expand home ownership opportunities, and ensure inclusive growth for this historic neighborhood,” Lightfoot said. “This ordinance, along with others we’ve undertaken, will ensure that not only the Woodlawn community members, but other Chicago residents, will be able to fully benefit from the incredible opportunities created by the future Obama Presidential Center, and we are very excited to break ground on that center as soon as possible.”
Hairston said the ordinance will help protect Woodlawn from gentrification for decades to come.
“We are making the right steps towards making sure that, when there are investments in our community – and I’m glad that we are making these investments – that the people of the community are not left behind, and we get to be a part of this, and we don’t get to watch our communities be developed without us, and we know that it is being developed for us, for us to remain in our communities, and I think that’s important,” she said.
Lightfoot’s office worked closely Hairston, Taylor, and various community activists to craft the ordinance.
“This has been a robust and challenging process, but I agree with both of you that we’ve gotten to the right place,” Lightfoot told Hairston and Taylor during Wednesday’s meeting.
Taylor said the Woodlawn community should be proud of the hard work they put in to reach a compromise with the city.
“They worked very hard, they worked together, and they battled it out,” she said. “It just shows you through conversations and us willing to work together, that we can make great things happen for all constituents in the city.”
Taylor had threatened to block an earlier version of the mayor’s ordinance, and has said the one approved Wednesday still doesn’t go far enough to protect Woodlawn from gentrification, but has said it’s a step in the right direction, and she has vowed to continue fighting for more protections.
Specifically, she has 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.
The $500 million Obama Presidential Center is still awaiting final approval from the federal government before construction begins. It is being planned for a 19-acre site in Jackson Park, just south of the Museum of Science and Industry.