Lightfoot unveils proposed affordable housing ordinance in letter to Woodlawn residents

Mayor Lightfoot

Mayor Lori Lightfoot unveiled the text of the much-anticipated Woodlawn Housing Preservation Ordinance, which proposes $4.5 million in new and expanded housing programs, alongside a letter to Woodlawn residents Tuesday morning touting her administration’s community engagement efforts in the neighborhood.

“Over the last several months, my administration has been very intentional about engaging with the residents of Woodlawn to listen carefully and learn about your hopes and fears for your community,” Lightfoot wrote, citing 16 community meetings attended by officials from the Department of Housing (DOH).

“All of our combined hard work and community collaboration has resulted in the draft Woodlawn Housing Preservation Ordinance that addresses some of the most pressing needs of the community as articulated directly to me and other members of my administration.”

The ordinance, which has yet to be introduced to City Council, aims to preserve affordable housing in the neighborhood, create resources to help residents facing displacement and turn city-owned land into housing for “a range of incomes” and economic development features.

In a summary released together with the plan, DOH said it was working with the mayor and Alds. Jeanette Taylor (20th) and Leslie Hairston (5th) to “determine the best timeline to move forward” with the legislation.

Any city-owned land that is sold to a developer would be subject to certain affordability restrictions. For projects larger than 15 units, at least 20% of those will have to be leased to households whose income does not exceed 80% of Area Median Income (AMI) — for a household of 4, a little over $71,000.

For projects between 6 and 14 units, 10% of the units would have to be leased to households with an income under 80% AMI. Those affordability requirements would be in place for 30 years after the last unit in the project has been rented out.

The ordinance continues and expands existing affordability programs, many of them administered by nonprofits, that have been operating in the neighborhood over the last few years. For instance, the legislation allocates $500,000 to Renew Woodlawn, an initiative primarily run by nonprofit Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH), which buys up small vacant properties, rehabs them with a developer, and sells them to would-be homeowners with a subsidy that can go up to $50,000.

To date, the program has helped 44 people in Woodlawn buy homes, according to POAH vice-president Bill Eager. Eager said that the amount POAH is getting from the city is more than twice as much as in its first round of funding, though the decrease of other funding sources means the program’s scope may decrease slightly in the near future.

The ordinance also proposes creating a “Woodlawn Loan Fund.” The Community Investment Corporation (CIC), a nonprofit mortgage lender, would establish a $7 million fund together with multiple banks for developers rehabbing homes in Woodlawn. Most of the city’s $1.5 million grant to CIC would cover any losses resulting from borrowers defaulting on their loans.

Another new program would give grants for home improvements to owners who have lived in the neighborhood for 10 years.

When it comes to renters, the ordinance includes a “right of first refusal,” which gives tenants in an apartment building a 90-day window to buy the property once the landlord receives an offer from a third-party buyer. That proposal is similar to the Tenants Opportunity to Purchase Act in Washington D.C., which was amended in 2018 to exclude single-family dwellings after a study found that only about 5 percent of offers to tenants were successful.

The ordinance also expands the two-year-old Preservation of Existing Affordable Rentals (PEAR) program. PEAR provides funds to developers, who then agree to institute 30-year affordable rental covenants. Under the new law, PEAR would receive $1.5 million.

Last July, Alds. Taylor and Hairston introduced their own affordable housing ordinance to City Council. One of the largest differences between theirs and the mayor’s new proposal is the difference in coverage: the aldermen’s plan covers South Shore, Washington Park and Hyde Park in addition to Woodlawn, while the plan released today only applies to the latter.

The CBA plan requires 30% of any new housing to be affordable, and the use of city-owned land for affordable housing. It also proposes a possible commercial linkage fee on large developers that would be used to support affordable housing.

Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) said she would respond to the mayor’s new plan in a written statement.

Last week, Mayor Lightfoot said that her affordable housing plan — which had not yet been released — had widespread local support.

"We've heard a lot of response from other residents of Woodlawn who understand exactly what we're doing and are actually very supportive of the efforts," Lightfoot said. "Ald. Taylor asked for some more information, which we provided her last week. We're waiting to hear back from her, but we need to move forward. So we'll hopefully engage in a productive conversation with her and others, but we've got to look at the entire scope of people in Woodlawn, not just one sliver."

In a statement released to the Herald, the CBA Coalition criticized Lightfoot’s ordinance, writing that it “does some of what the CBA is calling for but still falls extremely short.” The coalition also argued that the Woodlawn Loan Fund would only preserve rental housing for people making between $60,000 and $70,000 per year, and demanded that the fund help preserve affordable housing for those making under $50,000.

“We also need to require that affordable 2 and 3 bedroom apartments are created and preserved. Otherwise the Mayor’s Ordinance may just end up creating affordable studios for University of Chicago students,” continued the statement. “The Mayor’s ordinance will NOT advance equity. It will use City resources to benefit rich and powerful developers. This does not support the goal of stopping displacement.”

Bill Eager of POAH, which has developed mixed-income housing in Woodlawn over the past few years, wrote in an email that he was supportive of the proposed ordinance. “I think they are trying very hard to balance competing community priorities, and do a pretty good job of it,” he wrote. “There are indeed a lot of people focused on affordability and protecting low-income residents but just as many who want to see more middle-income-focused development. And frankly, I think most people want to see both. Nobody wants their neighbors displaced.”

Woodlawn residents can share feedback on the ordinance to DOH@cityofchicago.org and communityengagement@cityofchicago.org.

Aaron Gettinger contributed reporting. 

Reporter

Christian Belanger graduated from the University of Chicago in 2017. He has previously written for South Side Weekly, Chicago magazine and the Chicago Reader.

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