Cook County Commissioners Bridget Gainer and Richard Boykin each introduced items Wednesday to address summer youth unemployment in the County, 70 days before the end of the school year.
“Violence is on the rise in Cook County communities and police departments are bracing for the worst this summer. Nothing stops a bullet like a job. We must act now to give young people a better way to spend their summer,” Gainer said in a release. She proposed bid incentives for Cook County companies who employ teens aged 16-19 and a challenge to elective county spending “not required for life, safety or health to be challenged and deferred to create funds for the Chicago-Cook Workforce Partnership, One Summer Chicago, Alternative Schools Network and the Chicago Urban League.”
A recent study from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Great Cities Institute estimates 87% of African-Americans, 78% of Hispanics, and 74% of White teenagers are unemployed in Cook County. Four students testified about their struggle to find work.
Commissioner Boykin also proposed a package of programs funded by a $0.04 per gallon gas tax, with revenues to be used for four separate and related Cook County initiatives “designed to strengthen and stabilize neighborhoods in Cook County with high levels of poverty and unemployment.” Those programs would include $45 million in spending on youth jobs programs, a Youth Jobs Council, a Parenting to Prevent Violence Initiative, establishment of a county Office for People with Disabilities, and a Community Policing Initiative. But programs wouldn’t kick in until 2017.
Cutting through both proposals, Commissioner Deborah Sims called for immediate action, and the possible re-establishment of the President’s Office of Employment and Training (POET). “I know we have a program between the state, the city, and the county, and I’ve said this to [head of the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership] Karen Norington-Reaves: I don’t believe this program is working,” Sims said.
A member of the public in the gallery chimed in, “Say that.”
Norington-Reaves testified at a hearing on youth unemployment last month that the Workforce Partnership is “hamstrung” in its ability to create temporary summer jobs for youth. Grants guidelines from the federal government emphasize year-round employment and skills training.
The scandal-plagued POET program was scrapped and streamlined under Board President Toni Preckwinkle in 2011, and placed under the Workforce’s jurisdiction. The move saved the county about $5 million and cut 23 positions.
Cook County Hospital Redevelopment
Two Cook County hospital related redevelopment proposals have been introduced to the Board of Commissioners. The Civic Health Development Group (CHDG) was selected to redevelop the abandoned beaux arts Cook County Hospital building in the Illinois Medical District. CHDG plans to “invest approximately $600M” in the redevelopment of the space for residential, retail, office, and hotel use, President Preckwinkle’s office says, and will pay at least $2M in annual rent to the County over the term of the lease. Redevelopment would begin in 2017.
The proposal will be referred to the Finance Committee, which will hold a special meeting on the issue May 10 at 1 pm. Finance Chair John Daley said 20% of the residential units in the building will be mandated as affordable housing, and CHDG will work to hire people that live within two miles of the project on Chicago’s near West side in the Illinois Medical District.
A proposal for a $108.5 million contract extension and budget for construction of CCHHS’ new outpatient Central Campus Health Center was also introduced Wednesday. A new building will adjoin Stroger Hospital. Three county buildings will be decommissioned as a result, replaced with one “efficient” building. The move will reduce the county’s real estate footprint by 680,000 square feet.
Cook County Home Loan Program to Run Parallel To City’
A Cook County-administered program to help qualifying home buyers get fixed-rate 30-year mortgage loans and assistance with down payments and closing costs passed the Board of Commissioners, after some substitute confusion in committee and some last-minute recess session tweaks on Wednesday. “I think what we have now is a much better product than we had an hour and a half ago,” Commissioner Larry Suffredin said at the item’s passage. He’d earlier said that the entry to the lending program was very “unorthodox.”
Commissioners wanted assurance the program would be open to city residents and to ensure the program would be administered at no cost to County. The Bureau of Economic Development will report on the program’s progress quarterly.
Michael Jasso, Bureau Chief of the Bureau of Economic Development said, “We will be working with housing counselors and lenders across the county to make sure that this product is known,” but could not project how many home buyers could be impacted by the program. He said the County’s program would run parallel to the city’s recently-launched Home Buyer Assistance Program, which has identified 30 lenders already.
Home Loans will be sold to and serviced by Austin, Texas-based 360 Mortgage Group, which does not charge fees. The county is also making USDA and Fannie and Freddie Mac grant funds available for closing costs and down payments of up to 3% of the final purchase price or the final mortgage loan amount.