WOODLAWN — City Council passed an ordinance Wednesday to preserve affordable housing in Woodlawn, giving community organizers a major victory in their five-year effort to prevent displacement ahead of the Obama Presidential Center’s arrival.
The Woodlawn Housing Preservation Ordinance includes:
- A requirement that for each redevelopment of 52 vacant, city owned lots, at least 30 percent of new apartments be made affordable to “very low-income households.” This is defined as households making less than 50 percent of the area median income, or about $45,000 annually for a family of 4.
- An initial commitment of $1.52 million to a loan fund for acquiring and rehabilitating vacant buildings, followed by a $100,000 annual commitment.
- A commitment of $1.5 million to a program intended to help building owners refinance their property, thereby keeping rents affordable and preventing displacement.
- A $1 million commitment to the Home Improvement Grant Program, allowing Woodlawn residents who have owned and lived in their home for more than five years to apply for grants of up to $20,000. The funds can be used for home safety, exterior repair and energy efficiency improvements.
- A $500,000 commitment to the Renew Woodlawn program, which helps low- and middle-income earners buy homes in the neighborhood.
- A provision to allow renters a “right of first refusal” if their landlord decides to sell the building.
The ordinance passed Wednesday is a compromise between the Obama CBA Coalition — a driving force behind a community benefits agreement proposal introduced to council last July — and city officials concerned about potential legal challenges to the CBA.
“This is one of the most significant and aggressive affordable housing policies won in Chicago’s recent memory,” coalition members said in a statement. “As it stands, this ordinance has the potential to stop the displacement of thousands of low income and working class Black residents who live near the future Obama Presidential Center.”
The approved ordinance includes stronger protections than the city’s initial proposal announced in February, but does not go as far as the CBA proposal that stalled in committee for more than a year.
Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) praised Mayor Lori Lightfoot and city officials for negotiating with community groups like the Obama CBA Coalition until an agreement was reached.
“Of course, I want it all; I come from community organizing,” Taylor said. “But I do realize as an elected official, there [must be] some compromise, and this is definitely the compromise. It’s something that the community should be proud of.”
Before being elected to City Council in 2019, Taylor was an organizer with the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, a leading member of the CBA Coalition.
Taylor and members of the CBA Coalition vowed to continue their effort to secure additional protections for Woodlawn and other neighborhoods affected by the Obama Center’s plans.
Among the coalition’s future goals are expanding housing protections to South Shore and Washington Park and developing a “right to return” amendment to the Woodlawn ordinance, which would give preference to displaced Woodlawn residents as new affordable housing is built.
Taylor has said she will support continued negotiations around additional protections, including a city-backed affordable housing trust fund included in last year’s CBA proposal.
“The fight is not over; we’ve got a little more working it out and fighting to do,” Taylor said. “But this definitely is a step in the right direction. I’m proud of us doing what Chicago does: [Making] it work for everybody.”
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.