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Sterling Bay doubles affordable housing on site at Lincoln Yards

Ald. Brian Hopkins spoke at a City Hall news conference, joined by Ald. Walter Burnett (right) and Ald. Ray Lopez (left) to tout changes that will add more on-site affordable housing to the Lincoln Yards project. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Developer Sterling Bay agreed Tuesday to double the number of affordable units on the site of its $6 billion Lincoln Yards project, setting the stage for Zoning Committee approval this week — over the strenuous objections of both mayoral candidates.

Instead of building 300 affordable units on site, five percent of the overall total, Sterling Bay will build 600 on-site units — a 10 percent share.

The increase was billed as “one of the largest on-site affordable housing commitments at a single project” in the history of the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance.

But the overall number of affordable units tied to the project — 1,200 — will stay the same. While the number of on-site unit doubles to 600, the number of off-site units built within a three-mile radius will be cut in half — to 300.

Payments to the Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund — used to support affordable housing programs and rental subsidies to low-income families citywide — will remain at 5 percent, or $39 million.

“Is it everything we wanted? Absolutely not. … But we got enough to say that we support these changes,” said Diane Limas, board president of Communities United, a grass-roots neighborhood organization located on the Northwest Side.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) is a champion of affordable housing whose neighboring ward lies within that three-mile radius. Burnett praised Sterling Bay for going above and beyond city requirements.

“We need money to go to the trust fund, which helps to supplement a lot of affordable housing throughout the city of Chicago. Not just in one area, but all over. We need them both. But this is a 20 percent deal. No one has ever gone beyond 20 percent unless it’s an all-affordable housing deal,” said Burnett, who joined Hopkins at a City Hall news conference to unveil the agreement.

Video by Fran Spielman | Ald. Hopkins and Burnett on Lincoln Yards compromise

The affordable housing compromise was brokered by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has pressured the City Council to sign-off on the massive project before he leaves office.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), whose ward includes the 55-acre site along the Chicago River in Lincoln Park and Bucktown, said he’s confident the changes set the stage for the City Council’s Zoning Committee to do just that at Thursday’s meeting.

“The neighborhood associations that I work with … have worked diligently and extensively for eight months to get where we are today. It doesn’t feel like a rush,” Hopkins said.

“If we can attain sufficient support, it means we’ve earned it. And if we’ve earned support, we’re entitled to a vote now. There’s no reason to wait.”

Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle, who face each other in the April 2 mayoral runoff, both want to postpone a final council vote on the Lincoln Yards project until a new mayor takes office. Both have questioned the $900 million TIF subsidy at a time when the city faces a $1 billion spike in pension payments and other pressing concerns.

Without mentioning either candidate by name, Hopkins argued Tuesday that “those who demand delays are simply reflecting their opposition” to the massive development.

“What they haven’t done … is express to me what the purpose of that delay would be. If the purpose is to negotiate further revisions to the plan, bring them forward. If the purpose is to have additional questions answered, ask your questions,” Hopkins said.

“They haven’t been doing that. They’ve simply been saying delay, delay, delay for no other reason except a delay. That’s not how a legislative process works.”

Zoning Committee Chairman James Cappleman (46th) could not be reached for comment on the compromise.

On Jan. 30, Cappleman demanded that Sterling Bay dramatically increase the number of affordable units on site and urged Sterling Bay to work with the Chicago Housing Authority 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.”

“This is going to happen because I’m going to work to make it happen,” Cappleman said then, noting that the 2nd Ward is “among the wards with the least amount of affordable housing” in Chicago.

On Tuesday, Hopkins noted that the “huge gain” in affordable housing on site was made in addition to a host of other changes.

“Reducing the density by eliminating the entertainment district. Eliminating the soccer stadium. Doubling the square footage of the proposed recreational park. Adding a third bridge when only two bridges over the river were proposed. Every one of those changes was brought about because the community asked for it.”