CITY HALL — Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to prevent the Obama Presidential Center from pushing longtime Woodlawn residents out of their homes would earmark $4.5 million from the city’s affordable housing fund to combat displacement fueled by gentrification.
The draft ordinance, released Tuesday, includes “bold new tenant protections” and envisions turning city-owned vacant lots into affordable housing built by Woodlawn residents, according to a letter from Lightfoot addressed to Woodlawn residents that accompanied the release of the draft ordinance.
Lightfoot told Woodlawn residents that “for far too long, your voices have been ignored.”
The proposal is designed to address “some of the most pressing needs of the community,” Lightfoot wrote, adding that it was crafted so that “everyone who lives in Woodlawn should be able to stay and share in the transformative promise for economic growth and cultural enrichment offered by the Obama Presidential Center.”
The measure is “tailored for residents ranging from very low-income through those entering the middle class, while at the same time supporting and expanding homeownership opportunities,” Lightfoot wrote.
“In the past, I don’t think that city government has always been very proactive in getting out in front of challenges in communities,” Housing Comm. Marisa Novara told The Daily Line Tuesday. “Too often we are playing catch up.”
The draft ordinance backed by Lightfoot leaves out key elements of a community benefits agreement ordinance endorsed by 29 aldermen and supported by a coalition of activist groups that staged a day-long sit-in outside the mayor’s office earlier this month.
RELATED: READ THE DRAFT ORDINANCE
Woodlawn Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) said the mayor’s proposal does not do enough to protect Woodlawn residents from being pushed out of the area around the Obama Presidential Center, set to be built in Jackson Park.
“This doesn’t protect everyone,” Taylor said, adding that the city’s first priority should be to protect existing residents.
Taylor said she planned to formally respond to the mayor’s proposal on Monday, once she had a chance to meet with residents and community groups.
“There is room to negotiate,” Taylor said.
A spokesperson for the Obama CBA Coalition did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Line.
Two-thirds of the $4.5 million in public funds that would be spent if the mayor’s proposal is approved would be spent to help Woodlawn residents buy homes — or stay in the homes they already own.
In addition, the measure backed by the mayor would not require 30 percent of units in any new development requiring a zoning change to be set aside as affordable, which is a major plank of the CBA Housing Ordinance (O2019-5589). That ordinance also calls for a property tax freeze and a rental assistance fund, neither of which was included in the mayor’s proposal.
An analysis by housing officials determined that requiring 30 percent of new housing projects to be set aside for low- and moderate-income residents would have made new developments impossible to finance without a city subsidy, Novara said.
“We have 49 other communities that we need to be investing in,” Novara said. “We just can’t put all of our subsidies in one place. So, we are trying to be realistic.”
The ordinance would apply to the entire Woodlawn community area, Novara said. Originally, the mayor’s proposal applied to properties within three-fifths of a mile of the Obama Presidential Center, which would have included a small portion of South Shore, she said.
The coalition-backed community benefits agreement would have included all properties within a two-mile radius of the center, which would have included parts of South Shore and Washington Park.
If the measure backed by the mayor is approved by the City Council, apartment complexes with more than 15 units built on vacant land now owned by the city would need to set aside at least 20 percent of their units for low- and moderate-income residents — double the requirement in effect in most of the city.
In addition, 5 percent of the units in complexes with more than 15 units must be set aside for those earning less than 50 percent of the area’s median income, which is $44,550 for a family of four and another 5 percent must be earmarked for Chicagoans earning 30 percent of the area’s median income, according to the proposal.
Smaller complexes with at least six apartments would have to set aside 10 percent of the units for Chicagoans earning less than 80 percent of the area’s median income, which is $71,300 for a family of four.
Taylor said those requirements for developments on city-owned land were inadequate.
“That is our only leverage,” Taylor said. “It is nowhere near enough.”
In addition, the mayor’s draft ordinance calls for the city to expand its Preservation of Existing Affordable Rentals program, which offers landlords financial assistance from the city to purchase or refinance multi-family residential buildings in exchange for keeping the units affordable for 30 years.
The program, known as PEAR, would get an additional $1.5 million from the Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund, which is fueled by the fees paid by developers under the Affordable Requirements Ordinance.
The city owns 208 vacant lots in Woodlawn, which is about a quarter of the 1,200 vacant lots in the community area, Novara said.
“We have an unusual level of control over what happens … there,” Novara said, adding that another 28 percent of the current stock is already guaranteed long-term affordable.
The city’s plan calls for new owner-occupied homes to be built on half of those city-owned lots, with rental units built on the other half, Novara said.
Even though the Obama Presidential Center has yet to receive final approval from the federal government to break ground, Woodlawn’s real estate market is already bubbling, with the median sale price for single-family homes rising 90 percent from 2010 to 2019. The east side of Woodlawn has been particularly hot, Novara said.
“What we heard loud and clear from people in the working group was that they wanted a substantial investment in home ownership and in building the home ownership rate in Woodlawn,” Novara said.
That working group included South Side Together Organizing for Power, the Coalition for a CBA, nonprofit developer Preservation of Affordable Housing and the University of Chicago, Novara said.
Activists have repeatedly told reporters that low-income renters are being pushed out of Woodlawn — and that city officials must act immediately to stop the poor from being displaced.
“I would never question someone’s lived experience,” Novara said, but the publicly available shows the biggest impact has been on the sale price of single-family homes.
Novara added the city is not waiting for the problem to get worse.
“We owe it to folks to be proactive about ensuring that people who live there now can stay there,” Novara said. “There is also a lot of opportunity to grow inclusively without having to lose the people that are there now.”
Novara said the city would work to protect renters, and to increase home ownership.
“We can do both of those things,” Novara said.
To help long-term homeowners stay in their homes, the city would expand a grant program — now in place along the 606 Bloomingdale trail — to Woodlawn.
Chicagoans who have owned their home for 10 years or more and earn 120 percent of the area’s median income or less could apply for $15,000 grants from a new $1 million fund to repair their homes, according to the proposal.
The measure backed by the mayor also earmarked $500,000 for Renew Woodlawn, a program designed to help Chicagoans with low to moderate incomes purchase homes.
In addition, Lightfoot’s draft proposal would add $1.5 million to the Woodlawn Loan Fund, a program that funds the purchase and rehabilitation of vacant units to create new affordable housing units.
The city’s commitment to the loan fund is expected to attract $5 million from private investors, Novara said.
“We can’t just rely on city funds,” Novara said.
The draft ordinance also expands efforts to help would-be owners earning between 60 percent and 80 percent of the area’s median income purchase homes, Novara said. That was not in the framework released by city officials in January but was added as the result of an extensive community outreach effort, she said.
The plan also gives residents of apartment complexes a chance to buy their building before their landlord puts it up for sale under a pilot program modeled on the city’s ordinance designed to protect single-room occupancy hotels.
The owner of a building with 10 or more units would be required to notify tenants 30 days before listing the property for sale. It then allows a 90-day window for tenants to make a valid offer for the property, according to the proposal.
Residents have until March 6 to send feedback on the proposal to city officials by emailing the Department of Housing at DOH@cityofchicago.org or the mayor’s community engagement team at email@example.com.