Fall foliage flourishes next to an apartment building in South Shore on Oct. 14, 2022. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

SOUTH SHORE — Backers of a plan to keep South Shore residents in their homes amid the Obama Presidential Center’s construction are hopeful Mayor Brandon Johnson will put his full weight behind the slate of housing protections, though he hasn’t yet.

Ald. Desmon Yancy (5th) tried to introduce the South Shore Housing Preservation Ordinance to City Council earlier this month. A technical problem prevented the City Clerk’s Office from properly receiving the ordinance, but it will be reintroduced at Wednesday’s council meeting, Yancy said.

If passed, the ordinance would secure benefits for South Shore renters and homeowners while bringing more affordable housing to the neighborhood.

The ordinance would, among other things:

  • Reserve all city-owned vacant lots in South Shore for affordable housing.
  • Create a pilot affordable housing program in South Shore requiring 60 percent of new housing developments to be reserved for households earning 30 percent of the area median income. That’s about $33,090 for a four-person household.
  • Ban move-in fees and place caps on rental application fees and security deposits.
  • Create fair notice protections, giving neighbors more time to move when a landlord won’t renew their lease.
  • Invest in programs that would redevelop vacant homes and apartment buildings into affordable housing, give grants to homeowners for repairs and provide down payment assistance.
  • Set aside most of a city-owned vacant lot at 63rd Street and Blackstone Avenue for affordable housing.

To read the 54-page ordinance, click here. A one-page brief on the ordinance is available here.

An apartment building in the South Shore neighborhood on Dec. 6, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Johnson has not directly answered which aspects of the South Shore ordinance he supports in the two weeks since its rollout.

The mayor supports “a benefits agreement that doesn’t push families out” of their communities, he said at a press conference after Yancy and Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) joined organizers to introduce the legislation.

Johnson’s office did not answer Block Club’s detailed questions about the ordinance. Mayoral spokespeople issued a broad statement last week voicing support for housing stability and economic prosperity in South Shore.

Pressed for specifics this week, spokespeople declined to elaborate.

“This administration is committed to transparency, expediency, providing housing for the houseless and expanding the availability of affordable housing,” spokesperson Hannah Fierle said in a statement.

Yancy and some housing activists hope they can take the mayor’s sparse public comments on the ordinance as a sign he’s doing his due diligence, they said.

“I’m okay with it,” Yancy said. “I think that there’s been a lot of things on the plate right now as we’re moving into budget season. I understand there’s a commitment from his office to pass this ordinance, and now it’s just a matter of it moving through the pipeline.”

“It would be great if we can allocate money going into 2024 budget season and be able to close out the year with the passage of this ordinance,” he said.

The Johnson administration “has an intentional pace around how it analyzes and deals with legislation,” said Dixon Romeo, executive director of Not Me We and an Obama CBA Coalition member.

“I don’t anticipate that changing,” Romeo said. “I think that we’re going to continue to have discussions with them, and they’re going to continue to hear and see from the community that [the ordinance] is very much needed.”

Supporters of the South Shore Housing Preservation Ordinance gather at a Downtown press conference announcing the ordinance on Sept. 14. Credit: Noah Glasgow/Block Club Chicago

Organizers Fought For A Similar Ordinance In Woodlawn

Taylor and Yancy’s predecessor, Leslie Hairston, introduced a wide-ranging community benefits agreement to City Council in 2019 with support from the Obama CBA Coalition.

The proposal stalled for more than a year before then-Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration offered up a watered-down version. The Woodlawn Housing Preservation Ordinance passed in 2020 was an uneasy compromise between the two proposals.

But South Shore was left out of that compromise, leading organizers back to the drawing board to enact similar affordable housing protections for those neighbors.

Taylor, who frequently sparred with Lightfoot before the Woodlawn ordinance passed and is a co-sponsor of the South Shore ordinance, did not respond to Block Club’s requests for comment.

Yancy hopes that “we don’t run into the same sort of challenges” Taylor and others faced in pushing Lightfoot to support a community benefits agreement, said.

“I’m betting on the people in office and the work that’s been done,” Yancy said when asked if he’s worried about similar pushback from the Johnson administration. “I think we’ll be okay.”

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Housing organizers trust Johnson to be a better negotiating partner than Lightfoot was, Romeo said.

“There’s a difference between compromise, and taking a piece of legislation and wholesale cutting it at the neck,” Romeo said. “I don’t anticipate that happening with [Johnson] … because that’s not what this administration does or is about.”

The South Shore ordinance was introduced to aldermen with overwhelming community support and the backing of both affected aldermen after “close to a decade of engagement with folks on this issue,” Romeo said.

“I can’t think of something that’s hit City Council where so much work has been done on the front end to ensure what is represented here is representative of the needs of the neighborhood,” Romeo said.

That should be enough for city officials “to pounce on this and [pass] the most robust version of this as possible,” he said.

Activists set up a tent city on a vacant, city-owned lot at 63rd Street and Blackstone Avenue in June 2020, as they pressured former Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration to pass housing protections for communities near the Obama Presidential Center. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

Are More Protections On The Way?

When asked what other community areas could benefit from legislation like the South Shore ordinance, the mayor’s office said housing protections “should be considered” elsewhere but did not say which communities nor why they needed them.

This month’s proposal is “just a start” in addressing South Shore residents’ needs, Yancy said. The alderperson will explore other anti-displacement measures, “either through this ordinance or through the next piece of legislation that we push,” he said.

“Some folks are concerned about making sure we have other protections for the middle class — not just those who are low-income renters and not those who are homeowners, but what are we doing for people in the middle who are feeling some pain?” Yancy said.

5th Ward residents can ask questions or give feedback about the ordinance proposal by calling Yancy’s office at 773-324-5555 or emailing ward05@cityofchicago.org.

Activists said employment, sustainability, education and transportation agreements were needed in communities near the Obama Center as the 2019 community benefits agreement was introduced. But securing housing protections is the priority right now, Romeo said.

“If you’ve been displaced and can’t afford to live in the neighborhood, you don’t have access to the schools, access to the jobs, don’t even touch that transportation,” Romeo said. “Housing’s got to be the focus. Everything else has to build off that.”

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