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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Woodlawn Residents, City Officials Call For Quick Action To Protect Affordable Housing Near Obama Center

Neighbors at Tuesday's meeting on the city's affordable housing proposal for Woodlawn held a variety of opinions, but many agreed a plan of action needs to be decided soon.

Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara, deputy commissioner Anthony Simpkins and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) present the city's affordable housing proposal for Woodlawn March 10 at Hyde Park High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave.
Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
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WOODLAWN — With two legislative options for protecting Woodlawn’s affordable housing now on the table, residents told city officials Tuesday they want a plan in place soon.

Officials with the city’s Department of Housing outlined Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposed affordable housing ordinance for Woodlawn and took questions during the meeting hosted by Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) at Hyde Park High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave.

The planned Obama Presidential Center site is in Hairston’s 5th Ward, while most residential areas in Woodlawn are in the 20th Ward, represented by Ald. Jeanette Taylor.

Hairston introduced a community benefits agreement (CBA) ordinance to the City Council with Taylor in July. The city’s proposal came after that plan stalled for months over concerns about potential legal challenges.

Ald. Taylor said the city’s plan doesn’t go far enough to protect Woodlawn renters and homeowners.

If passed, the city’s ordinance would apply to a two-mile radius around the planned Obama Center site, which includes Woodlawn and portions of South Shore and Washington Park.

One aspect of the city’s proposal was taken right from the original CBA: A tenants’ right of first refusal pilot program.

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

Other aspects of the city’s plan include Woodlawn-specific changes to the City Lots for Working Families program and $4.5 million to fight displacement from the city’s affordable housing fund.

The city’s comparison of its ordinance proposal to the CBA proposal marks six of eleven points as a “win” for CBA supporters, including:

  • The right of first refusal
  • The existing Chicago Owner’s Land Trust
  • A community trust fund
  • Public meeting requirements and the creation of a displacement task force

The city’s proposal “appear[s] to be in agreement” with the CBA on the sale of city-owned land, the comparison reads.

The draft ordinance calls for 75 percent of the land the city sells to be reserved for affordable housing; the CBA calls for 100 percent.

The comparison claims CBA organizers “recently” requested the 100 percent requirement, despite its inclusion in the ordinance introduced last summer.

Woodlawn resident Shawn Jones said she is “perfectly fine” with the push to pass the city’s plan. “Add-ons and amendments” can continue to be worked out after something is passed, she said.

“This is a unique situation. We’re not going to know how well things are going to work until we actually get into the groove of it,” Jones said. “While the momentum is going, now is the time to act. I’m very in support of us moving forward with the [city’s] plan.”

Deputy housing commissioner Rosa Ortiz said the city is working to determine the best timeframe for passing the ordinance — “assuming we have the community support to go forward,” fellow commissioner Anthony Simpkins added.

“We know residents have been waiting for a long time to get some of these policies in place,” Ortiz said.

Meetings like Tuesday’s need to be better publicized, said Woodlawn property owner Michael Madero.

Madero “isn’t picking sides” between the CBA and the city’s proposal, but said he wants a solution that “makes sense” — and some of the CBA’s provisions “don’t make sense.”

He said he understands the need for affordable housing. But he personally does not want to end up footing the bill — through increased property taxes, without the option to raise rents to match — for that “societal issue.”

Tuesday’s meeting, which started 30 minutes late, opened with Hairston accusing unspecified people of saying the meeting had been canceled.

“I know there are a lot of people out there that are trying to muddy the water and cause confusion and scare people,” Hairston said.

The “Lens On Lightfoot” project
 is a collaboration of seven Chicago newsrooms examining the first year of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration. Partners are the BGA, Block Club Chicago, Chalkbeat Chicago, The Chicago Reporter, The Daily Line, La Raza and The TRiiBE. It is managed by the Institute for Nonprofit News.

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