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7 Woodlawn Properties Once Owned By Rev. Leon Finney’s Nonprofit Set To Become Affordable Housing

With the complicated Obama Center CBA stalled, the city is taking a smaller step to preserve housing affordability in Woodlawn by purchasing the vacant properties.

The city aims to purchase a vacant lot at 6521 S. Evans Ave. in Woodlawn.
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WOODLAWN — The complex Obama Center community benefits agreement, an ordinance proposal introduced six months ago that aims to preserve housing affordability in Woodlawn, wasn’t approved by the end of the year as backers had initially hoped.

In the meantime, the city appears set to take a smaller affordable housing step in Woodlawn. On Tuesday, the Committee on Housing and Real Estate approved the city’s purchase of seven vacant properties in Woodlawn all formerly owned by the bankrupt Woodlawn Community Development Corporation.

The nonprofit, formerly led by embattled Rev. Leon Finney, auctioned off 15 properties in October.

If approved, the city would to take over seven of those properties from Community Initiatives, Inc., who purchased them for just over $3 million, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

The properties are located at:

  • 6232 S. Woodlawn Ave.
  • 1140 E. 63rd St.
  • 6239 S. University Ave.
  • 6312 S. Woodlawn Ave.
  • 6310 S. Woodlawn Ave.
  • 6445 S. Kimbark Ave.
  • 6521 S. Evans Ave.

Though they are vacant lots, the properties would enter the city’s Troubled Buildings Initiative, a roster of abandoned structures intended for repair and reuse as affordable housing.

City officials approached Community Initiatives about buying the properties so development in Woodlawn is “not totally driven by market forces,” director Jonah Hess told Crain’s Monday.

The city’s housing department “is taking some of these properties back, and they’re trying to be strategic about how to use them in the best interest of the community,” committee chair Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) told The Daily Line. “Sometimes it’s good for the city to acquire property to plan with communities to come up with positive developments, and add more affordable housing.”

The measure will be considered by City Council on Jan. 15.

The potential acquisitions come as city officials and Woodlawn residents continue negotiations around the Obama Center CBA ordinance.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said she reviewed the draft CBA ordinance with the Housing Department on Monday, ahead of the committee’s vote to approve the acquisitions.

Among the provisions they discussed was a plan to reserve 75 percent of vacant city-owned land in the CBA coverage area for affordable housing, Hairston said.

The ordinance would apply to the seven Woodlawn properties and all others within a two-mile radius of the proposed Obama Center.

Hairston and Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th), who introduced the CBA ordinance in July, said many aspects of the proposal are still under negotiation.

Supporters initially set a goal of passing a CBA by September 2019, Taylor said, but negotiations are still ongoing four months later.

The CBA ordinance has yet to be brought to a vote in the housing committee. A vote was not on Tuesday’s agenda.

Nearly 30 aldermen support the proposal. But it’s been a process trying to get city officials, community stakeholders and her own office all on the same page about the specifics of the ordinance, Taylor said.

She said she’s working with the Housing Department to solicit more community input. They’re aiming to schedule “larger conversations” about the CBA with residents before the month is over, she said.

“The delays are not me, it’s the city,” Taylor said. “They talked about all these legal challenges. … We’ve got to get to a space where the people in the communities get to decide. The city should support that work and support those folks.”

Taylor said she has not discussed the proposal with Osterman since last September, when she joined pro-CBA activists in leading him on a trolley tour of Woodlawn.

During the tour, Taylor urged Osterman and the rest of City Council to approve the ordinance. A precedent must be set for preventing development-driven displacement, she said.

“We’ve got to get to the place where everybody in the city of Chicago is a priority, because greed has no end,” Taylor said during the tour. “It’s us today; it’s going to be y’all tomorrow.”

Hairston can’t speak to Osterman’s reasons for holding the proposal in committee, but “he is aware we are working through the language,” she said.

“We want to get the best product, and sometimes that takes a little more time,” Hairston said.

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