By Alex Nitkin, The Daily Line & Maxwell Evans, Block Club Chicago

A draft proposal aimed at preventing displacement in Woodlawn announced by the city’s Housing Department Thursday would leave out key elements of a community benefits agreement ordinance already endorsed by 29 aldermen.

The new proposal would apply only to census tracts within three-fifths of a mile of the Obama Presidential Center, as opposed to the proposed community benefits agreement which would apply to all properties within a two-mile radius of the center. While Woodlawn would be included in the plan, most of South Shore and Washington Park would not.

Though the proposal released Thursday only addresses Woodlawn and a portion of South Shore, the department is “still in active conversation” about its boundaries, said Housing CommMarisa Novara.

“This does not mean either the Department of Housing or the Department of Planning and Development is uninterested in continued work in South Shore and Washington Park,” Novara said. The new proposal “is strictly from the standpoint of where we may see the biggest impact.”

The city’s new proposal also doesn’t include a “pilot zone” that raises affordability requirements for new construction, a major component of the proposed community benefits agreement.

Leaders of the Chicago Department of Housing have “landed on six key components” of a potential ordinance after “months of engagement and collaboration with Woodlawn residents and other stakeholders,” Novara told reporters on Thursday.

Freshman Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20) and South Side community groups have demanded that the Obama Foundation and city officials agree to a “community benefits agreement” to blunt the effects of gentrification near the planned Obama Presidential Center site. The foundation and former Mayor Rahm Emanuel rebuffed those calls, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot promised during her campaign to back a legal measure.

Housing officials developed a “framework” for a potential ordinance after convening a “working group” including South Side Together Organizing for Power, the Coalition for a CBA, nonprofit developer Preservation of Affordable Housing and the University of Chicago, Novara said.

“We emerged from that with some important themes, including that everyone who lives in Woodlawn now should be able to stay in Woodlawn,” Novara said. “If we can do that, Woodlawn can grow in a way that is inclusive, affordable and provides an opportunity to build wealth through increased homeownership.”

The commissioner said her department is “actively working” with city attorneys to draft an ordinance that includes the following six “key components:”

  • Allowing tenants “right of first refusal” if their landlord seeks to sell their building, giving them “the right to form a tenant’s association and enter into an agreement with a not-for-profit affordable housing developer to purchase the building and maintain it as affordable.”
  • Expanding the The Preservation of Existing Affordable Rental program, an Emanuel-era initiative to help apartment landlords refinance their buildings in exchange for entering into covenants promising to keep their units affordable.
  • Offering grants for longtime homeowners to repair their houses so that they can “age in place” instead of being forced to move.
  • Creating a “residential acquisition and rehabilitation revolving finance facility” to help finance the rehabilitation of vacant buildings.
  • Setting “guidelines” for selling and developing city-owned land into affordable and mixed-income housing.
  • Setting “enhanced local hiring requirements” for development on city-owned land.

Housing officials do not support creating a “pilot zone” requiring 30 percent of units in any new development requiring a zoning change to be set aside as affordable, which was a major plank of the CBA Housing Ordinance (O2019-5589) introduced by Taylor and 28 other aldermen last summer.

Novara said her department is waiting for its 20-member Inclusionary Zoning Task Force to unveil its recommendations for the Affordable Requirements Ordinance before it gets behind sharpening the ordinance’s teeth in Woodlawn.

City leaders are looking for ways to draft a comprehensive zoning policy applying to all the city’s gentrifying neighborhoods, instead of creating one-off policies for different parts of the city, the commissioner added.

“We’re actively exploring whether it’s time for geographically-based pilot areas to sunset all together, so it did not make sense to create a new pilot…while we’re looking for solutions for the city at large,” Novara said.

The existing Affordable Requirements Ordinance requires 10 percent of units in any new development that requires a zoning change to be set aside as affordable, but developers can opt out of most of that obligation by paying an “in-lieu-of fee” into the city’s Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund.

City officials would not say if the new proposal would replace or modify the existing community benefits agreement proposal stalled in committee.

“We’re not at that point yet,” Novara said.

Members of the Obama CBA Coalition met with the Housing Department to discuss the new proposal in recent weeks, including Sharon Payne, a Woodlawn resident and member of Southside Together Organizing for Power.

“I can say that [the department] had groups of us, asking us questions, and we again said what we needed,” Payne said. “They were the ones that drew up the conclusions from that.”

As the department works out the specifics of the draft proposal, Payne said 100 percent of the city-owned vacant land in Woodlawn should be reserved for affordable housing.

Payne also said the city should consider a lower cutoff for defining “affordable housing” than the 50 percent of the area median income floated during the working group’s discussions.

Fifty percent of the Chicago-area median income for a four-person household is $44,550 annually. The median income for family households in Woodlawn’s ZIP Code, 60637, is $32,440.

“I’m pleased that [Mayor Lori Lightfoot] is focusing energy on the community and the need for affordable housing,” Payne said. “I’m just concerned the mayor’s package for addressing displacement may not go far enough.”

Last week, Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) told Block Club she had discussed a proposal to reserve 75 percent of vacant city-owned land in the CBA coverage area for affordable housing.

Taylor added that she had been working with the Housing Department to solicit more community input, and that they were aiming to schedule “larger conversations” with residents about the CBA by the end of January.

An open house on the department’s proposal will be held from 5-8 p.m. Jan. 30 at Hyde Park High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave.