South and West Side aldermen used the Department of Planning and Development hearing to demand more housing and economic development in their underserved wards.

Morning attendance: Pat Dowell (3), Will Burns (4), Leslie Hairston (5), Roderick Sawyer (6), Gregory Mitchell (7), Michelle Harris (8), Anthony Beale (9), Sue Sadlowski Garza (10), Patrick Daley Thompson (11), Raymond Lopez (15), David Moore (17), Ricardo Munoz (22), Michael Zalewski (23), Michael Scott Jr. (24), Danny Solis (25), Roberto Maldonado (26), Walter Burnett Jr. (27), Jason Ervin (28), Chris Taliaferro (29), Ariel Reboyras (30), Milly Santiago (31), Scott Waguespack (32), Deb Mell (33), Carrie Austin (34), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35), Gilbert Villegas (36), Emma Mitts (37), Nicholas Sposato (38), Marge Laurino (39), Pat O’Connor (40), Anthony Napolitano (41), Michele Smith (43), John Arena (45), James Cappleman (46), Debra Silverstein (50)

“I want to share my frustration with the department over the last 16 years and not getting anything tangible,” South Shore Ald. Leslie Hairston (5) opined, noting that while developers were “stepping over each other” to build in the City’s more affluent neighborhoods, she “can’t even get a phone call back” from developers. Hairston has spent the last two years trying to get a supermarket chain to open a store in the South Shore after the neighborhood’s only grocery store went out of business.

“Without the muscle of the City and the Mayor, this [kind of development] isn’t going to happen in our communities,” Hairston told newly appointed DPD Commissioner David Reifman.

Yesterday’s hearing was the first time aldermen had a chance to publicly speak to Reifman. He was recruited by the Mayor from global law firm DLA Piper in August to replace Andrew Mooney, who retired.

Due to time constraints, Reifman didn’t get a chance to read his statement, but we have uploaded a copy.

Raising similar concerns about the inequity of development in the City, Ald. Pat Dowell (3) told Reifman it was his and the Mayor’s responsibility to “use the power of the office” to look beyond the central business district when they are courting businesses and developers to relocate to Chicago. And Far West Side Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29) said his Austin neighborhood is in desperate need of housing, as he continues to see an exodus of businesses and residents to the suburbs.   

Downtown aldermen Brendan Reilly (42) and Walter Burnett, Jr (27) had concerns of their own. Recalling a time when DPD was mostly focused on neighborhood development, Ald. Reilly said he and the Mayor worked “really hard to promote development downtown,” and expressed concern that the new Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO) would stifle that growth.

The reforms to the ARO the City Council passed last year increase the number of required affordable housing units. 10% of units built on land sold by the City are required to be affordable; 20% if financial assistance is provided. Developers also have the option of paying an in-lieu fee per required unit depending on where it’s built. For downtown and high-income areas, the price ratchets up this month.

“I’m already seeing an impact on residential proposals in the central business district,” Ald. Reilly told Commissioner Reifman. “Meaning, that due to slimmer margins, some of these projects are falling out of queue because they simply can’t get financing.”  

“Do you have any insights for us, whether the ARO needs to be further tweaked, changed to address that sensitivity?” Reilly asked, adding that he knows of 6 projects that won’t move forward because they won’t make the October 13th filing deadline, which is when the new requirements take effect. But Reifman said it was too early to talk revisions and suggested another conversation down the line, “I think overall that ordinance achieves a balance for what we need as a City.”

Like Ald. Reilly, Ald. Burnett has seen a significant number of high-density, mixed-use residential developments break ground in his ward, which includes the recently-designated landmark, Fulton Market. He was mostly concerned about the growing backlash from residents who oppose large scale development. “It’s just getting crazy with the NIMBYs,” Burnett said, suggesting DPD commission a video touting the benefits increased density has on keeping housing prices low by growing the City’s housing stock.

TIF reform was a recurring discussion topic, with aldermen repeating many of the same points throughout the hearing. Ald. Michael Scott, Jr. (24) and Ald. Burnett suggested DPD allocate more TIF dollars to employment programs and business development.

“When we voted for these TIFs […] we told folks the TIF money would be used to get jobs in our community. Not just for companies to be retrained and all of that stuff,” Burnett said.

Suggesting DPD was the wrong department to oversee TIF money, Burnett floated the idea of having the Department of Family and Supportive Services in charge of the neighborhood funds because “they are giving people jobs.” Burnett said he’s considering drafting an ordinance explicitly detailing what projects TIF money can be spent on.