Another recently appointed, pro-affordable housing member of the Chicago Plan Commission, Bishop John R. Bryant, is being replaced. Bryant’s resignation from the 22-member land use board follows Juan Linares’ exit in April. Both were appointed by the Mayor last summer, and both were vocal about their affordable housing concerns.
Bryant is the Senior Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and Presiding Bishop of the 4th Episcopal District. His ministry is in the city’s Grand Boulevard neighborhood.
Linares is the Executive Director of LUCHA, an organization on the city’s Northwest Side that focuses on affordable housing. After his resignation from the Plan Commission, he was appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the council yesterday to serve on another body that might be more in his wheelhouse: the Low Income Housing Trust Fund Board. As one of 15 members on the board, Linares will decide whether buildings receive rental subsidies or interest-free forgivable loans to create more units for very low-income individuals or families.
But Bryant’s future is unclear. At yesterday’s City Council meeting, an ordinance was introduced requesting the Zoning Committee consider his replacement, Rev. Albert D. Tyson III, and noted Bryant’s resignation. Tyson has served Saint Stephen African Methodist Episcopal Church since 1985, in addition to holding a slew of city-run board positions, including a spot on the Public Building Commission and on the Board of Trustees for City Colleges of Chicago.
Although his attendance has wavered over the past few months, Bryant is best remembered for his concerns over minority hiring at the Wanda Vista Tower project, the lack of one-for-one replacement of public housing for the massive redevelopment of CHA’s Lathrop Homes, and a long soliloquy he gave questioning the purpose of TIF funds after the redevelopment team for the Cuneo Hospital site presented their plans.
In November, when the development team for the Wanda Vista project presented their plans for a “supertall” downtown skyscraper, an unusual debate about the lack of minority contractors, sparked by George Blakemore, a fixture at public meetings, unsettled a number of commissioners of the planning board. Saying Blakemore’s comments “struck a nerve,” Bryant, who was new to the board, demanded the developers respond to Blakemore’s questions about minority hiring.
“The underclass in this country is growing at an alarming rate, and [we’re] in a place where we can do something about it, so I really need to hear some response,” Bryant said. A representative from Magellan Development told him the company employed minority contractors, but didn’t track numbers.
“My spirit was not at peace with your answer,” Commissioner Bryant replied, prompting other members to more sharply question developers. At the Lathrop hearing in February, Commissioner Bryant voted “no,” after expressing concern about the divided testimony over the public housing component.
And when JDL Development went before the body in January to present their plans to build a massive housing complex with more than 600 units at the site of the former Cuneo Hospital and Maryville Academy Shelter in the city’s Uptown neighborhood, Bryant sided with the protesters who lamented a TIF subsidy made available to help support the project.
The Plan Commission doesn’t deal with TIF subsidies, it deals with zoning and city-owned land sales. But at that meeting, Bryant said he was “misled” when he accepted a spot on the board and “disturbed and upset” with the affordable housing issue. “My life has been speaking for the poor, marginalized, and oppressed,” Bryant began, “The unemployment rate is alarming. I’ve sat on this commission trusting those who invited me to serve, and I have acted on this committee with a great deal of trust from those who invited me.”