A coalition of community organizations and aldermen, including Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th), announced a plan Thursday morning to put forward legislation overhauling the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO).
In a letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Housing Committee Chair Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), the group outlined policies to “address structural racism, expand accessible housing, prioritize quality mixed income housing across the city and bring transparency and accountability to developers.”
It’s the latest effort in a year-long campaign by the Chicago Housing Initiative and a bloc of socialist and progressive City Council members to require that developers build more low-income housing in or around new construction projects.
Last summer, aldermanic members of the coalition introduced the “Development for All” ordinance that would tighten affordability requirements for developers, but it failed to gain much legislative momentum.
Today’s announcement of new legislation comes after Lightfoot’s Inclusionary Housing Task Force released its report on the ARO earlier this week. The progressive coalition explicitly tied its policy goals to the task force’s recommendations.
“Here we are again in 2020, trying to do the work of making sure that inclusionary zoning, and in this case the Affordable Requirements Ordinance, actually works for the needs of working families,” said Ald. Daniel LaSpata (1st) at Thursday’s press conference.
“If this is going to be an actual anti-displacement tool, it needs to be creating housing for those who are at risk of displacement in our communities.”
The housing task force, which was created by the mayor’s administration last October, included Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), as well as community organizers Noah Moskowitz and Cathleen O’Brien, all of whom were present at the press conference Thursday morning.
“We urge the administration to remain committed to public policy. Let’s not fall into the same mistakes of the past, when developers’ campaign donations dominated the narrative,” said Sigcho-Lopez.
As the task force’s report details, City Council passed a precursor to the ARO in 2004 — the law allowing developers more density in downtown projects as long as they built on-site affordable housing or paid a fee into a city-operated affordable housing fund.
In 2007, the ARO itself took shape. Now, developers across the entire city who were seeking for a zoning increase or using city-owned land had to make 10% of the housing affordable or pay a fee of $100,000 per required unit. (If the developer got money from the city, the requirement increased to 20%.)
Because developers often found it cheaper to pay the fee to the city, little on-site affordable housing was built. Housing advocates have criticized the ARO for this outcome, arguing that it perpetuates segregation and shuts poorer people out of higher-income neighborhoods. Developers, in turn, argue that putting more restrictions in place would hurt their bottom line, to the point where some projects would no longer be worth building.
The policies outlined in the coalition’s letter to the mayor are certainly more restrictive, though less so than last summer’s proposal, and with some concessions to developers. To begin with, the group proposes that more of the required on-site housing should be affordable at lower ranges of Area Median Income (AMI). Half of the affordable housing would have to be available to those making 50% AMI — about $45,500 for a family of four — with a quarter at 30% AMI and another quarter at 20%.
That’s reminiscent of some of the requirements in the newly passed Woodlawn affordable housing ordinance, which were added to the legislation after Taylor and neighborhood organizers pushed the city to make more housing available at lower income ranges.
But it’s also designed to make more housing affordable for people with disabilities, many of whom rely on Social Security benefits as their primary source of income.
“I think something people don’t realize is that most of us make about $783 a month, because SSI and SSDI are our only income,” said O’Brien, an organizer with Access Living, a nonprofit advocating for people with disabilities. “We look forward to creating an ordinance that creates accessible units that won’t displace our family members and support systems, and that we can actually get into financially.”
The ordinance would also require developers to build more 2 and 3-bed units, and reduce the overall number of units required if enough are built.
“Increasingly, it is becoming impossible for working families to be able to find a dignified, affordable place to call home in neighborhoods like Logan Square,” said Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th). “That can’t be the case.”
There are other measures in the proposed ordinance to sweeten the pill for developers — for instance, they would be allowed to partner with local affordable housing providers to build the on-site units.
There is no timetable for when the ordinance will be introduced, though LaSpata said he hoped it would be soon. “Coming out of this, knowing that these are recommendations that come from an administration-led process, my hope is that an ordinance would follow pretty swiftly,” he said.
The other aldermen who signed the letter were Alds. Rosanna Rodriguez (33rd), Andre Vasquez (40th), Matt Martin (47th), and Maria Hadden (49th). The Chicago Housing Initiative includes Southside Together Organizing for Power, part of the CBA Coalition.