Vacant lots along 63rd Street in the Woodlawn neighborhood on April 12, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

WOODLAWN — Woodlawn residents want more of the city-owned lots designated for affordable housing near the Obama Presidential Center to be high density, ensuring a maximum number of lower-cost units and preventing displacement of longtime residents.

The Woodlawn Housing Preservation Ordinance passed in 2020 requires 30 percent of apartments built on 52 vacant, city-owned lots in the neighborhood to be made affordable to “very low-income households.” Of those 52 lots, at least 10 must be zoned for high density.

Residents with the Obama CBA Coalition want the requirement to go even further, with all available high-density lots on 63rd Street east of Cottage Grove set aside for affordable developments.

“We are asking for lots in areas of high density, where we could put more affordable housing … that would be closer to the Obama Center,” said coalition member Patricia Tatum, who has lived in Woodlawn for 34 years and worked in the community for 49. “Our voices should be the ones determining the future of this community, not outsiders.”

The coalition’s proposal would create up to 1,000 units of affordable housing in Woodlawn, CBA Coalition fellow Sahar Punjwani said. The coalition estimates that would allow about 3,000 residents to remain in the neighborhood.

“We want to make sure that we get those lots, as compared to the luxury developers who are also going to want those lots,” Punjwani said. “We’re making sure … the lots are not really spread across Woodlawn, as that would not lead to the same levels of affordable housing.”

The CBA Coalition’s proposed map for the 52 affordable housing developments to be built under the Woodlawn housing ordinance would create about 1,000 affordable units, residents said. Lots in green are lower density, while lots in blue are higher density. Credit: Provided

A proposal drafted by city officials in June would create about 390 affordable housing units on the 52 lots.

That includes 29 lots in low-density zones throughout the neighborhood, and 23 lots in high-density zones primarily along 63rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue.

The city’s proposal is “advisory,” and housing officials are working with the Woodlawn Working Group and the planning department to meet the housing ordinance’s requirements, housing department spokesperson Eugenia Orr said.

Despite the city’s map, housing Commissioner Marisa Novara pushed back against calls to “pre-identify” locations for the 52 lots at a Dec. 15 working group meeting. The Hyde Park Herald first reported on the meeting.

Selecting the locations of the lots ahead of time “is not the same thing as identifying a funding source for them,” Novara said last month.

“Neither the city nor the state pre-determines at which addresses they will fund developments,” Orr said. The department “is thus not limiting developments to any particular address, rather committing to an open process for proposals as long as the affordability requirements are met.”

The first of the 52 affordable developments — the Park Station project at 63rd Street and Maryland Avenue — was approved by City Council in September. The $30.8 million project will host 56 apartments, 41 of which are affordable.

Park Station is “an example of how we see [development of the 52 lots] working in action,” Novara said last month.

The city’s proposed map for Woodlawn’s 52 affordable housing developments would create about 390 units of affordable housing, officials said. Lots in light blue are zoned for low density, while those in dark blue are high-density. The ordinance in total would create about 532 affordable units under the proposal. Credit: Provided

It’s been a “tug of war” trying to get the city on board with the coalition’s proposal, said Marilyn Harper, a Woodlawn resident of 25 years. Harper, who has been active with the coalition for several years, said she never thought the fight to secure and implement the housing ordinance would take so long.

“We’re optimistic, … but it’s going to take a lot of communication and working back and forth,” Harper said. “We still know it’s not going to come like magic.”

Harper lives in a building owned by her uncle. The family connection doesn’t protect her from the changing neighborhood market — her rent is rising, too, she said.

“Even though you may be lucky to have an uncle, a relative, a father own the building … as much as they love you, they’ve got to survive like everybody else,” she said.

That’s all the more reason to ensure the ordinance benefits renters and homeowners, said Tatum, who serves as president of the Vernon Village block club in the 6100 block of Vernon Avenue.

“Right now, you have families where everybody in the family, two or three people are contributing just to pay the rent each month,” Tatum said. “If we get the housing [the city is] proposing, these people are going to have to move out of the community — a community that’s been their home for generations.”

The Green Line train tracks above 63rd Street near Cottage Grove Avenue in the Woodlawn neighborhood on April 12, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

As residents press for density among the 52 lots, city officials are rolling out other aspects of the Woodlawn housing ordinance.

Longtime homeowners in Woodlawn have until Feb. 15 to apply for grants of up to $20,000 to make exterior repairs.

Woodlawn residents who have lived in their one- to four-unit building for at least five years are eligible to apply. Applicants’ households must make less than 120 percent of the area median income, which is $111,840 annually for a family of four.

For more information on the homeowner repair grant, click here. For help in applying for the grant, click here.

The Woodlawn Construction Loan Fund for acquiring and rehabilitating vacant buildings, which launched in April, sits at $7 million and has closed on one property so far, Orr said.

The city loaned $5.4 million and issued about $37 million in tax-exempt bonds to rehab the Island Terrace Apartments at 6430 S. Stony Island Ave., she said.

Preservation of Affordable Housing bought Island Terrace last summer. The nonprofit aims to make all 240 apartments affordable to renters making 30-80 percent of the area median income, or about $28,000-$75,000 for a four-person household.

City officials didn’t receive any multi-family rental development applications in Woodlawn during the latest round of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, Orr said.

The housing department will start accepting applications early this year from developers seeking to build new homes on city-owned land, she said.

The homes will be developed under the City Lots for Working Families program, and buyers of 20 of the new homes will receive purchase price assistance of up to $60,000.

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