CHICAGO — Mayor Brandon Johnson remains focused on finding “suitable” housing for migrants and asylum seekers arriving in Chicago, he said in an interview with Block Club.
But the mayor declined to say when the city might have a plan ensuring families don’t have to sleep on the floors of police stations.
City officials have opened 10 new shelters since Johnson took office in May, he said, and many migrants are on a “pathway to independent living.”
“I’m still very much committed to removing people from police stations and putting them into more sustainable, suitable shelters,” Johnson said in the interview on Friday.
But as buses of people continue to arrive from the southern border, the mayor wouldn’t say when or how the city will be able to get on top of the humanitarian crisis.
“We’re moving as fast as we possibly can,” he said.
Johnson delivered a similar message in response to Block Club’s questions about addressing homelessness and unreliable public transit. Often answering with campaign-style rhetoric, the mayor argued his first three months in office have been productive but he needs more time to solidify detailed plans.
“Of course we have a lot of work to do,” he said.
Johnson took office in May with promises to fix the city’s problems by unifying and investing in its people. His communications team invited Block Club to sit down with the mayor on Friday as he gave a round of media interviews to mark his first 100 days on the job.
The interviews were not held at City Hall but on the 17th floor of 167 N. Green St., a swank office building completed in 2020 in the trendy Fulton Market area of the West Loop. Among other amenities, the building is known for the patio, garden and basketball court on its rooftop.
The mayor and his team decided meeting with reporters at the upscale property would be “less stuffy” than at City Hall, a mayoral aide said.
The aide escorted Block Club journalists to a conference room down the hall from the patio that offered sweeping views of the city. Through a glass door, the mayor could be seen in the next room talking with reporters from another news organization.
A few minutes later, Johnson strode in for Block Club’s interview with a warm greeting and an offer of a handshake. An aide said Block Club had 10 minutes to ask him questions.
The mayor was evasive when pressed to explain his administration’s plan for helping migrant families find housing. Instead of answering directly, he talked about the “incredible journey” of his first 100 days in office.
“I’ve had the opportunity to move around the entire city of Chicago, and the excitement, the hope and the aspirations of the people of Chicago have been on full display and it’s been great to hear,” he said.
Johnson then touted the dedication of his team and praised other Chicagoans who have stepped up to help the recent arrivals. He also said he had spoken with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Gov. JB Pritzker and other government officials to coordinate responses. Those efforts will continue, he said. He offered few specifics.
The mayor stressed his team had already taken steps to expand social services and affordable housing for all Chicagoans in need. That includes moving forward with the Bring Chicago Home plan, which would fight homelessness with money from real estate sales taxes.
“Having the necessary revenue and a really strong commitment from my administration to address housing is a top priority of mine,” he said.
During his campaign and again in his inauguration speech, Johnson also vowed to address the “crisis” of the city’s faltering public transit system. While riders have coped with unsafe, unsanitary and unreliable service, Chicago Transit Authority president Dorval Carter has received pay raises.
“Decisions will be made as we continue to assess and evaluate and determine whether or not individuals that are in [those] positions are best suited for where we’re going as a city,” Johnson said. “We’re still evaluating all of them.”
Under previous mayors, Johnson said, Chicagoans had grown used to “knee-jerk, very harsh” styles of leadership. In contrast, “I’m being far more thoughtful and deliberate when we make these decisions because getting them right, that’s what the people of Chicago are most interested in.”
Yet Johnson has been criticized for the way he fired public health Commissioner Allison Arwady this month. Johnson vowed to oust Arwady during the mayoral campaign. But Arwady said he never met with her in person before letting her go abruptly on a Friday afternoon, and she was not given the chance to inform or prepare her staff.
Johnson has refused to comment on firing Arwady, saying he won’t discuss personnel matters. And he wouldn’t answer Block Club’s questions about whether the process leading to her departure was “thoughtful and deliberate.”
“I know some people in the city of Chicago have become accustomed to adversarial dynamics that play out in public,” he said. “That’s not why people elected me.”
When the interview time was up, Johnson agreed to let a Block Club photographer take his portrait on the rooftop patio down the hall. The mayor then seemed to become less rehearsed.
”Alright, this is a photo shoot, not a portrait,” he joked when several pictures were taken.
Soon after, his aides whisked him away to the next interview.