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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

City Says Woodlawn Residents’ Concerns Shaped Proposed Housing Ordinance, But Much Of Their Feedback Isn’t Public Yet

A Housing Department spokesperson said officials hope to post feedback gathered during the city's closed-door working group meetings by next week.

Attendees discuss affordable housing proposals for Woodlawn — which culminated in the Woodlawn affordable housing ordinance passed that fall — at a January 2020 forum organized by the Obama CBA Coalition.
Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
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WOODLAWN — Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration is touting its draft affordable housing ordinance for Woodlawn as a “community collaboration,” though right now it’s unclear exactly how a recent community input process shaped the ordinance.

That could change next week if the Housing Department follows through on releasing input collected during its closed-door working group meetings with community stakeholders.

In an open letter to Woodlawn residents Tuesday, Lightfoot said the draft ordinance “addresses some of the most pressing needs of the community as articulated directly to me and other members of my Administration.”

“Over the last several months, my administration has been very intentional about engaging with the residents of Woodlawn to listen carefully and learn about your hopes and fears for your community,” Lightfoot said in the letter.

The draft ordinance, also released Tuesday, stems from a community input process that began last October. Homeowners, renters and neighborhood groups like the West Woodlawn Coalition and South Side Together Organizing for Power participated in the working groups.

The city’s proposal comes as a community benefits agreement (CBA) ordinance has stalled since its July 2019 introduction over concerns about potential legal challenges to some of its provisions.

The CBA ordinance was drafted with the help of a coalition of neighborhood groups and has garnered the support of nearly 30 aldermen. In a non-binding 2019 referendum, more than 80 percent of voters in each affected 5th and 20th Ward precinct showed support for a CBA.

One aspect of the city’s proposal was taken right from the CBA: A tenants’ right of first refusal pilot program, Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara told Block Club Wednesday.

If an owner decides to sell, the right of first refusal allows tenants a chance to purchase the building before it hits the open market.

It’s one of the aspects of the draft ordinance that’s in direct response to community feedback on last month’s affordable housing proposal, Novara said.

Other aspects include Woodlawn-specific modifications to the City Lots for Working Families program and a $500,000 allocation to the Renew Woodlawn homeownership program, which she said addresses residents’ desire to raise the neighborhood’s homeownership rate.

In total, the ordinance would earmark $4.5 million from the city’s affordable housing fund to combat displacement.

Some provisions not included in the city’s draft ordinance but included in the CBA ordinance proposal are:

  • The setting-aside of 30 percent of units in any new development requiring a zoning change for affordable housing. Housing officials determined such a provision would make new developments impossible to finance without a city subsidy, Novara told The Daily Line Wednesday.
  • A property tax freeze, which would require county approval.
  • A rental assistance fund.

At her ward meeting Tuesday, Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said the city’s new proposal would go further than the CBA ordinance, according to the Hyde Park Herald. Hairston introduced the CBA to City Council with Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) last July.

Novara said Wednesday afternoon that input gathered from the working group meetings was not publicly available. She added that she didn’t know if input on the draft ordinance would be made public after that comment period ends next week.

When asked how residents can know the city’s proposal directly addresses working group concerns without a public record, Novara said “the understanding is that [participants in the working groups] share the content of our meetings out to their networks.”

The next morning, spokesperson Don Terry told Block Club he hoped the department would make feedback from the working group meetings public by next week.

Novara did not respond when asked how feedback collected at the city’s Jan. 30 open house was reflected in the draft ordinance.

A summary of the open house notes residents’ concerns about broad themes, including:

  • “Woodlawn stakeholders support easing new homeownership through rent-to-own programs and city support.”
  • “Woodlawn’s existing affordable housing must be preserved, and new housing options need to be created.”
  • “Woodlawn residents called for affordability requirements at very low, middle and higher income levels on new development, on city-owned land.”
  • “Stakeholders agreed with granting right of first refusal to building tenants when multi-unit buildings are sold.”

Beyond the working groups and the open house, Woodlawn residents have found other ways to voice their opinions.

The Obama CBA Coalition protested the city’s plan with a sit-in at Lightfoot’s office Feb. 11, while Taylor said residents “love to send emails and letters to the mayor’s office.”

Taylor said she understands “time is of the essence” on finding a solution to prevent displacement, but any rush could’ve been avoided had more community input been conducted “on the front end” of the city’s plan. Taylor has been an outspoken critic of the city’s new proposed ordinance but has repeatedly said she would defer to the community’s wishes.

RELATED: Ald. Taylor Vows To Block Lightfoot’s Scaled-Back Obama Center Affordable Housing Plan

She urged city officials not to act without considering the needs and opinions of the neighborhood as a whole.

“Sixty years of disinvestment and turmoil in a community is not going to be worked out in a year’s time,” Taylor said. “Historically, [city officials] just went to the people who agreed with the city … Now that there are a lot of different voices at the table, it’s not going to be worked out quick. It’s going to take time.”

Residents can provide feedback on the city’s draft ordinance by email through March 6.

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