Aldermen push for affordable housing ordinance

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Ald. Joe Moreno signs an oversized letter to Ald. Joe Moore. Seven alderman signed the letter urging action on the “Keeping the Promise” ordinance, which relates to the Chicago Housing Authority. | Andrea Salcedo/For the Sun-Times

A group of North and Northwest Side aldermen are asking to bring affordable family housing into their wards to combat what they call segregation and gentrification.

The seven aldermen held a news conference Wednesday at City Hall to put their names on a prop-sized letter addressed to Ald. Joe Moore, chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate. In the letter, they pledged to work with the Chicago Housing Authority, city leaders and community organizations to build at least 50 CHA-sponsored apartments in each of their wards before their terms come to an end.

They also urged Moore to support the Keeping the Promise Ordinance, which has the backing of 25 aldermen and is intended to ensure the CHA invests hundreds of millions of dollars in affordable housing. The ordinance is pending in Moore’s committee, and they want it voted on in the next 30 days.

“Our Keeping the Promise ordinance has been collecting dust in the housing committee for three years now,” Ald. Deborah Mell (33rd) said. “It really deserves a vote and due process.”

More than a year ago, the committee held a hearing on the bill; members heard 11 hours of testimony and comments about the ordinance.

An oversized copy of a letter was displayed at a City Hall news conference on Wednesday, and seven aldermen signed it. | Andrea Salcedo/For the Sun-Times

An oversized copy of a letter was displayed at a City Hall news conference on Wednesday, and seven aldermen signed it. | Andrea Salcedo/For the Sun-Times

“We continue to believe that the Keeping the Promise Ordinance is a strong piece of legislation and deserves due process, including a vote before the full city council,” the letter states.

The ordinance also asks the CHA to provide reports to the Committee on Housing and Real Estate on, among other things, the agency’s available funds, available housing in each ward and its progress on building replacement public housing across all neighborhoods.

“We need the CHA to report to the City Council regularly and open up its books so we can see what they’re spending their money on,” Mell said.

Other key elements of the ordinance include the committee’s power not to authorize city funding for CHA redevelopment if the master plan doesn’t show how at least 20 percent of planned public housing units are located in low-poverty neighborhoods and that CHA would replace all standing units it proposed to demolish or convert on a one-on-one basis.

The ordinance also requires that the city not approve Planned Development Applications to dispose of CHA land until it provides a replacement housing plan. That plan must include the location, financing and timeline for constructing all replacing housing units promised at the time of demolition. Additionally, the replacement must be built within five years.

But not everyone is on board with the goal of putting more CHA affordable housing in low-poverty neighborhoods. In February, more than 100 Jefferson Park residents protested against a seven-story, 100-unit building, a project that had the backing of Ald. John Arena (45th). Some objected to the size of the building, but some opponents used racist language.

Ald. Ameya Pawar questioned how much power residents should have when deciding what comes into their neighborhoods if, in opposing a project, they shift the conversation of affordable housing into “racist” arguments against it.

“If Alderman [John] Arena brings up this project and his office is hijacked for six months for 84 units how do you bring that forward in other communities?” Pawar (47th) said.

The group of aldermen is confident they have enough votes inside the committee to pass the ordinance and wants it voted on May 22.

Besides Arena, other aldermen at Wednesday’s news conference were Joe Moreno (1st), Chris Taliaferro, (29th), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and Harry Osterman (48th).

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