Council’s new Zoning chairman wants more affordable housing at Lincoln Yards

SHARE Council’s new Zoning chairman wants more affordable housing at Lincoln Yards

An earlier artist’s rendering of the Lincoln Yards development. The plans have since been altered to remove a soccer stadium and music venues, while increasing greenspace and the number of apartments. | Provided by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM)

The new chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee demanded Wednesday that Sterling Bay dramatically increase the number of affordable housing units on the site of its $6 billion Lincoln Yards project and give area residents more time to digest its newly-revised plan.

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) is in the driver’s seat on one of the largest developments in Chicago history now that Ald. Danny Solis (25th) has resigned as Zoning Committee Chairman.

That puts Cappleman, the former vice-chairman, in a unique position to push his longstanding goal to create more affordable housing and yield to demands to slow down the massive project and its $900 million tax-increment-financing subsidy until after the mayoral election.

On Wednesday, Cappleman vowed to do just that one week after the Chicago Plan Commission was accused of “rubber-stamping” the development.

“The community has not yet had a chance to see the finalized plan. Clearly we need to give the community a chance to see the finalized plan before it comes before Zoning,” Cappleman said.

Cappleman noted that the 2nd Ward is “among the wards with the least amount of affordable housing” in Chicago.

“The lack of affordable housing is a city crisis and we need all wards to step up. I want to see more affordable housing in this plan,” he said.

“There’ll be lots of negotiations and more community meetings and, when I get a sense that that has occurred, then it is time to move on it.”

The new master plan released just days before the Plan Commission vote increased the density — from 12 million square feet and 5,000 residential units to 15 million square feet and 6,000 units.

The plan calls for 20 percent of those units, or 1,200, to be affordable, but only 300 of those affordable units to be built on the 55-acre site.

That’s not enough to satisfy Cappleman — even though Sterling Bay also agreed to contribute $39 million to the city’s Affordable Housing Fund and build another 600 units no more than three miles away.

“I want to see some work done with CHA to provide more affordable housing for people who earn less than 30 percent of the area median income. That’s where there’s a true crisis of affordable housing,” Cappleman said.

“It’s conceivable that we could have CHA working with the Lincoln Yards developer to see how they can work together. CHA is doing a lot of that now. Let’s do it in the 2nd Ward. This is going to happen because I’m going to work to make it happen.”

Local Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said he has not yet talked to Cappleman about his demands.

“The current affordable housing component complies 100 percent with all existing affordable housing requirements in the law that we, as a City Council, passed and amended just a couple of years ago. But that’s a baseline. We can do better and I’m committed to make sure we do better,” Hopkins said.

“There’s other elements of that plan that are under considerations by other aldermen that have a strong interest in this. That conversation is ongoing. … We’re reviewing the affordable housing component and I expect revisions will be made going forward.”

Sarah Hamilton, the former Emanuel communications director now serving as a spokesperson for Lincoln Yards, agreed the massive project is already in “full compliance” with the city’s so-called Affordable Requirements Ordinance.

But, she said, “We will continue to work with Alderman Hopkins on this issue.”

During last week’s marathon Plan Commission meeting, Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), whose ward borders the 55-acre site that runs along the Chicago River in Lincoln Park and Bucktown, accused mayoral appointees of ramming the project through.

“The last time a government body in this room was asked to make a similarly momentous and expensive decision in so little time was the parking meter deal,” she said.

Friends of the Parks Executive Director Juanita Irizarry accused the Plan Commission of “rubber-stamping” a master plan that still doesn’t include nearly enough park land to accommodate, what amounts to a “small city.”

Hopkins was jeered when he started to speak by angry constituents who packed the City Council chambers for the start of the debate.

“I’m here to put my name and my reputation on the line in support of moving forward with Lincoln Yards today. I’m also taking full responsibility for the fact that we’re here today. Not next month. Not six months from now. Today,” Hopkins said then.

On Wednesday, Hopkins insisted once again that there had been more than enough community meetings on the Lincoln Yards plan.

“It is one of the most inclusive and extensive community review processes for any real estate development in the city,” he said.

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