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Afternoon Edition: Sept. 10, 2020

Today’s update is a 5-minute read that will brief you on the day’s biggest stories.

The Chicago Department of Water Management — shown fixing a water main break on the Northwest Side last year — will be replacing lead service lines carrying water from the mains into homes and other buildings.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Good afternoon. Here’s the latest news you need to know in Chicago. It’s about a 5-minute read that will brief you on today’s biggest stories.

It’ll be another cloudy and rainy afternoon, with a high near 67 degrees. Tonight’s low will be around 60 degrees. Tomorrow, some sunshine will break through as the high hovers around 69 degrees ahead of a weekend warm-up.

Top story

Lightfoot to tackle lead service line replacement by starting small

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has accused her predecessor of punting an $8.5 billion problem and said the “time of reckoning is now” for replacing lead service lines carrying water from street mains to nearly 380,000 Chicago homes.

But the plan she unveiled today is more like dipping your toe in the water than diving right in. Instead of asking all Chicago homeowners to share the cost, Lightfoot will start small: The city will replace lead service pipes at only 600 homes in impoverished Chicago neighborhoods.

For homeowners willing to hire their own contractors and assume replacement costs themselves, the city will waive up to $3,300 in permit fees, connect the new service line to the water main and install a free water meter when the project is completed. To qualify, it must be a “stand-alone” request not related to a home renovation or expansion that requires a larger water line, officials said.

The city will also choose an entire block of roughly 50 homes where all of the service lines will be replaced at the same time that the water main is replaced. The city has applied for $4 million in state and federal loans to bankroll that portion of the program.

The so-called “Equity Lead Service Line Replacement Program” covers less than one-thousandth of 1% of the universe of endangered Chicago homes.

“At this rate, it’s gonna take 500 years,” former mayoral challenger Paul Vallas told us. “It’s a press release without substance. Saying it lacks substance would be complimentary. It tries to create the perception that they’re doing something when they’re not doing anything at all.”

During a City Hall news conference, Lightfoot argued that her start-small approach makes sense: “Undoing the extensive network of legacy lead service lines is a steep and costly mountain that we will need to climb, and we will not erase this legacy overnight. But it is way past time for us as a city to address this issue, which is why we are taking these necessary first steps today,” she said, stressing that Chicago’s drinking water is safe.

The $15 million pilot program will be paid for with federal Community Development Block Grant funds.

To qualify for what the city calls “free, full lead service line replacement,” Chicagoans must: own the homes they live in; have a household income below 80 percent of the area median income, or $72,800 for a family of four; and have “consistent lead concentrations in their drinking water above 15 parts-per-billion.”

Read the full report from Fran Spielman here.

More news you need

  1. Chicago Park District staff began removing signs bearing the name “Douglas Park” this morning after the Park District Board voted yesterday to remove Stephen Douglas’ name from the North Lawndale park. Commissioners have opened a 45-day public comment period to solicit ideas for renaming it.
  2. Half of Chicago households surveyed in a recent poll reported facing serious financial problems because of the coronavirus pandemic and its ripple effects, like job or wage losses. More than 1 in 3 Chicagoans say they have used up all or most of their savings.
  3. In less than two weeks, an additional 350,000 Illinois residents have requested mail-in ballots, pushing the total number to 1.45 million. That means one in four Illinois voters could be choosing the mailbox over the ballot box in November. It could also mean multiple days of tallying ballots before results are in.
  4. Another 1,953 Illinoisans have contracted COVID-19, public health officials announced today. That’s about average for the state over the last month, with roughly 1,957 new coronavirus cases reported per day since Aug. 12. But officials also announced the virus has killed 28 more residents, well above the state’s 30-day average of about 20 lives claimed per day.

A bright one

As COVID-19 drives need for locally sourced food, Chicago and downstate farmers get help scaling up

Johari Cole-Kweli grew up in K-Town, got her microbiology degree from Michigan State University, then worked for pharmaceutical firms before realizing Big Pharma couldn’t solve nagging health disparities in the Black community.

Her solution? The 50-acre Iyabo Farms she owns in Pembroke Township, an hour and a half south of Chicago. The farm is among 27 statewide recently awarded $250,000 in grants from the Illinois Stewardship Alliance to meet skyrocketing demand for local food spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m glad the state is now looking to improve local food supplies, but we’re facing triple the demand. That means quickly scaling our infrastructure and labor. It’s hard to meet supply right now, but we’re all trying,” said Cole-Kweli, who was at Star Farm Chicago in Back of the Yards yesterday, delivering 30 dozen eggs and fresh produce.

Stephanie Dunn, owner of Star Farms in Back of the Yards, and Johari Cole-Kweli, owner of Iyabo Farms in Pembroke Township, Ill., pose for a photo at Star Farms Wednesday afternoon.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The aim of the grants is to counteract dependence on shelf-stable, high-calorie, low-nutrition food cited as a contributing culprit to longstanding health gaps seen nationally by income and race.

“Every week, we’re making hundreds of home deliveries of fresh organic produce, and now we are offerings eggs, bread, jam and honey,” said Star Farm Chicago founder Stephanie Dunn.

“A lot of food pantries and grocery stores in our neighborhood closed down for a good portion of time due to the pandemic and unrest, creating a huge void of fresh produce, which you don’t want to see in an area plagued by hypertension and diabetes,” said Dunn. “We stayed open.”

Read the full story from Maudlyne Ihejirika here.

From the press box

The Bears open their season Sunday in Detroit, and of course Virginia McCaskey will be there. Our football experts predict how the game will turn out. Broadcaster Jeff Joniak predicts that calling a Bears game without fans will be a strange experience.

Former Bear Brian Urlacher caused an uproar last month with a social media post criticizing NBA players taking a stand on social justice issues. But Bears chairman George McCaskey said those comments didn’t jibe with the man he knew.

And for you football fashionistas, the team released its 2020 jersey schedule.

Plus, some bad news for White Sox fans: The team put starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel on the 10-day injured list.

Your daily question ☕

About half of Chicago households surveyed in this poll said they’re facing serious financial problems, so we want to know: How has the pandemic affected you financially?

Email us (please include your first name and where you live) and we might include your answer in the next Afternoon Edition.

Yesterday, we asked you: How would you describe your typical work-from-home wardrobe? Here’s what some of you said…

“I was a remote worker before COVID. Shorts or leggings and tank top or tee. Always put on shoes, no slippers!” — Maureen Vanderbilt

“Same as I wore to work, blouse and jeans, but no shoes.” — Healther Hollaar

“Zoom-appropriate. Coiffed hair, simple make-up and business casual tops paired with shorts and flip flops.” — El Malo on Facebook

Thanks for reading the Chicago Afternoon Edition. Got a story you think we missed? Email us here.

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