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Pilsen, Little Village, West Loop

Aldermen Vote To Approve Pilsen, Little Village Affordable Housing Program — But Was It Legal?

Ald. Raymond Lopez thinks a Pilsen affordable housing ordinance is a bad idea, and used a parliamentary move to block it — but aldermen pressed on anyway.

Members of the City Council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate voted to advance a new pilot program for Pilsen and Little Village.
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CITY HALL — Six members of the City Council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate voted Thursday to advance a new pilot program for Pilsen and Little Village under the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance in an apparent violation of the City Council’s rules of procedure.

The 15-member committee meeting erupted in protests as soon as Chairman Joe Moore (49th) announced the item, with dozens of members of the public standing up and holding signs reading “Stop the Vote” before being escorted out of the meeting room.

At the meeting, six members were initially in attendance: Chairman Joe Moore, Ald. George Cardenas (12th), Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th), Ald. David Moore (18th), Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) and Ald. James Cappleman (46th). 

After denouncing the plan backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and retiring Alds. Ricardo Muñoz (22nd) and Danny Solis (25th) as “an insult” to the residents of Pilsen who have already been displaced by the forces of gentrification, Lopez called for a quorum — noting that a majority of committee members did not appear to be present.

Moore immediately moved to recess the committee meeting, then conferred with other aldermen.

“We knew there were aldermen in the building that wanted to be part of [the vote,]” Moore said. “I am perfectly within my rights to do that.”

The meeting of the City Council’s Zoning Committee, going on around the corner in the Council Chamber, was also recessed. Supporters of the proposal scrambled to find enough aldermen to turn back Lopez’s motion.

The ordinance change (O2018-9030) would increase the city’s affordable housing requirement from 10 percent to 20 percent in a 7.2-mile area in Pilsen and Little Village.

RELATED: City Vows To Keep Mexican Culture Alive In Pilsen, Little Village With New Affordable Housing Plan

During the recess, Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) and Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) arrived at the meeting. While Burnett is a member of the committee, Laurino is not. As president pro tempore, she is an ex-officio member of the committee without voting rights.

Lopez, who is a member of the Housing Committee, left the meeting during the recess and did not return. He told The Daily Line he would have to be dragged back.

When Moore reconvened the committee, he did not call for attendance to be taken to establish that eight members were present.

Instead, Moore ordered that public testimony begin.

After the speakers concluded, Moore held a voice vote on the measure, which received unanimous consent.

At that time, there were only six members of the committee present: Joe Moore (49th), Cardenas (12th), David Moore (17th), Scott (24th), Burnett (27th) and Cappleman (46th).

That vote appears to be in violation of the council’s rules, which requires a vote to be held immediately after a call for quorum — and if unsuccessful, prohibits any further action by the committee. For the vote to be valid after the call for quorum, eight members would need to be present. 

After the meeting, Moore said he had followed the council’s rules and was confident that the vote was valid.

Lopez described it as a purposefully violation in an attempt to pass the measure on Thursday.

“This was a rush job by everyone present,” Lopez said, adding that he will file a formal objection with City Clerk Anna Valencia’s office.

Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrecould not immediately comment on whether the committee’s action was valid.

Solis acknowledged that city officials had been unable to stop gentrification from taking root in Pilsen and spreading southwest.

“Now we are thinking long-term,” Solis said.

Cardenas said he supported the pilot program, but was concerned that city officials did not consult all interested community groups to ensure their members’ opinions were considered.

“There is nothing right now to protect homeowners from the forces of gentrification,” Cardenas said.

RELATED: City’s New Affordable Housing Plan Is Too Little, Too Late In Gentrifying Pilsen, Aldermanic Challengers Say

Before he brought the meeting to a temporary halt, Lopez said he thought the pilot program would be unsuccessful.

“We will continue to see people overdevelop Pilsen,” Lopez said. “We are way past the need for this program. I’m just not buying that it is going to work.”

Lopez’s call for a quorum vote was the second time in the last month he has used the parliamentary maneuver in an attempt to block a piece of legislation.

In November, Lopez successfully halted a vote at the Rules Committee preventing three competing measures to raise the city’s Real Estate Transfer Tax from advancing.

At Nov. 9 meeting, Rules Committee Chairwoman Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) refused a request from Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) to recess the meeting and allow supporters an opportunity to round up other aldermen — which was exactly what happened at Thursday’s Housing Committee meeting.

However, Harris said during the Nov. 9 meeting that once the the quorum call had been made, the meeting was effectively over.

In March 2017, Ald. Ed Burke (14th) — the longest serving alderman — blocked a Zoning Committee vote on a proposal for a controversial Jefferson Park storage facility championed by Ald. John Arena (45th) by calling for a quorum vote, which also brought that meeting to an end. The development was approved at a subsequent meeting.

After the quorum call, the committee also approved a measure (O2018-9027) to acquire four miles of abandoned railroad tracks from BNSF Railway to make way for the Paseo Trail from 16th Street in Pilsen to 31st Street in Little Village. Some residents there worry developers will flock to that trail as well and fuel further gentrification. Housing prices have soared near The 606 trail, pushing out some longtime residents.

At the last City Council meeting, Lopez introduced a measure (R2018-1243) that would require attendance to be taken at the start of every committee, rather than allowing committees to operate as they do now – under the assumption that there is a quorum unless challenged.