WOODLAWN — Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) is backing an ordinance proposed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot laying out a suite of affordable housing programs for Woodlawn, putting to rest a year-long feud between the two leaders over how to protect residents from potential displacement spurred by the Obama Presidential Center.
City leaders struck a deal with Woodlawn community groups on Sunday to amend a proposal developed by the city’s housing department earlier this year by adding heavier protections for low-income renters, a key priority for Taylor and members of the Coalition for a Community Benefits Agreement. The ordinance is set to be formally introduced during Wednesday’s City Council meeting.
The changes “reflect input from multiple parties” including Woodlawn community groups as well as Taylor and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), whose ward includes the Obama Center site and a slice of Woodlawn, according to Department of Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara. Hairston and Taylor confirmed Monday that they will both cosponsor the ordinance.
“I want to commend both alderwomen, and the administration, [who] came to the table to work through this in earnest,” Novara told The Daily Line Monday.
Taylor called the ordinance “a step in the right direction,” adding, “Of course I want more for my community.” She vowed to keep fighting for affordable housing in Woodlawn.
The ordinance is a far cry from a more forceful proposal (O2019-5589) Taylor introduced last July with the backing of 28 of her City Council colleagues, including Hairston. The so-called “CBA ordinance” would have mandated 30 percent of new units built in the neighborhood be rented at reduced cost, and it would have launched a city-backed trust fund to back the construction of new affordable housing.
Instead, the latest version of the ordinance tweaks the housing department’s earlier proposal by adding the following provisions:
- On 25 percent of city-owned vacant land in Woodlawn, or about 52 lots, at least 30 percent of new apartments must be held affordable to renters who earn between 30 percent and 50 percent of area median income — between about $19,000 and $32,000 for an individual tenant. Lightfoot’s original ordinance called for 20 percent of units in large apartment complexes built on city-owned land to be held affordable to renters who earn up to 80 percent of median income, with smaller set-asides for lower-income renters.
- Any apartment building refinanced through the city’s Preservation of Existing Affordable Rentals program must keep at least 10 percent of units affordable to renters who make up to 30 percent of median income, and another 10 percent affordable to tenants who earn up to 50 percent of median income.
- The housing department will request an additional $675,000 in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to fund Renew Woodlawn, a program that helps low- to middle-income earners buy homes in the neighborhood. It would supplement $500,000 that city housing officials have already committed to the program from the city’s Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund.
- Eligibility requirements will be loosened for Woodlawn’s Home Improvement Grant Program, allowing residents who have lived in their house for more than five to apply for grants of up to $20,000 each. An earlier draft offered grants of up to $15,000 each to residents who have lived in their home for at least 10 years.
“There is an interest in ensuring that we are setting aside and making a commitment to address the needs of our lowest-income population in Woodlawn,” Novara said. “At the same time, we had lots of members of the [neighborhood] working group who were really clear that they wanted the ability to build more homeownership and build a stronger middle class.”
The ordinance has also been updated with an additional “whereas” clause emphasizing that all new development in Woodlawn should primarily benefit “Woodlawn residents and businesses.”
Hairston told The Daily Line Monday that the ordinance is “a very important first step” to create “stable and vibrant communities in Woodlawn,” which has “not had the same investment that other neighborhoods have had.”
“It takes everybody giving and taking,” Hairston said. “But we have to look at reality, what’s going to work [and] what’s not going to work, to make sure we are representing as many interests as possible.”
She added that she expects the ordinance to earn widespread support in the City Council.
Jawanza Malone, executive director of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization and a lead organizer with the Coalition for a CBA, called the ordinance “one of the most significant and aggressive affordable housing policies won in recent memory.”
“The fight is not over,” Malone wrote in a statement to The Daily Line. “We have more work to do, but this victory shows us that organizing works.”