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Plan to stop gentrification in Pilsen, Little Village rammed through committee

Little Village

A commercial strip in Chicago's predominantly Mexican Little Village neighborhood. | Getty Images

Mayor Rahm Emauel’s plan to stop gentrification and preserve the character and affordability of Pilsen and Little Village was rammed through a City Council committee Thursday amid controversy about the absence of a quorum.

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) requested a “quorum call” that would have postponed the vote because fewer than eight of the Housing Committee’s 15 members were present.

Housing Committee Chairman Joe Moore (49th) then called for a brief recess.

When the meeting reconvened, there were six aldermen present. Attendance was never taken. Testimony proceeded, followed by a vote to approve the mayor’s plan.

Lopez was livid. He plans to file an objection with the city clerk’s office.

Ald. Raymond Lopez

Ald. Raymond Lopez | Sun-Times File Photo

“They went on and did business, which is illegal, passing two items which is a complete violation of our rules and the law. That needs to be addressed,” he said.

“There was a willingness to circumvent and bend the rules as far and as wide as possible to try and pass this today.”

The violation of parliamentary rules is not the only beef Lopez has.

“To say you’re gonna do a pilot that … maintains affordable housing in Pilsen — which has already been completely gentrified, where the vast majority of the Mexican community is being pushed out — is an insult to not only that community but to every community facing gentrification,” he said.

Moore said he was under no obligation to take attendance when the recess ended.

“The aldermen who suggested absence of a quorum was no longer there and no one else suggested an absence of a quorum. So it was all done according to Hoyle,” Moore said — meaning, the rules were followed.

Ald. Joe Moore

Ald. Joe Moore insisted the rules were followed on a committee vote during which fewer than half the members were present. | File photo

“A quorum is assumed unless a member of the body — in this case, the committee — suggests that there is not a quorum. And no one suggested that. … The guy who seemed to be concerned about it left.”

Retiring Ald. Rick Munoz (22nd) is a proponent of the mayor’s plan; his ward includes Little Village. He charged that Lopez was driven by politics.

“A former staffer of The Resurrection Project is running against Ray Lopez for alderman,” Munoz said, referring to a community organization headquartered in Pilsen. “So he’s pissed.”

The mayor’s “community-based strategy” is intended to preserve the “culture, character and affordability” of Pilsen and Little Village, the Midwest’s largest Mexican community.

It calls for strengthening affordability requirements for market-rate residential developments; preventing residents from being pushed out by gentrification and creating a landmark district to preserve the area’s signature architecture.

The Affordable Requirements Ordinance pilot will double — from 10 percent of total units to 20 percent — the affordable housing requirement for large residential projects within a 7.2-square-mile area in Pilsen and Little Village.

At least 10 percent of that total unit count would have to be built on-site.

Developers would have to pay $50,000 more per-unit to avoid creating the remaining 10 percent on site. Those fees would rise to $175,000 per unit in Pilsen and $100,000 per unit in Little Village.

The pilot area in Pilsen would be bounded by Peoria, 16th Street, Western Avenue and the Sanitary and Ship Canal. In Little Village, the boundaries would be Western Avenue the Stevenson Expressway, the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad tracks and the city limits.

Fees already paid by developers into the city’s Affordable Housing Opportunity fund will also be used to provide financial assistance to developers who “purchase or refinance multi-family residential buildings in exchange for long-term affordable rental covenants.”

Forgivable loans will also help “income-qualified owner-occupants of one-to-four-unit properties upgrade their properties and remain in their homes.”

The landmark designation, also approved by the Landmarks Commission on Thursday, would be used to preserve the area’s “Baroque-inspired mixed-use and residential buildings” along 18th Street and Blue Island Avenue.

Yet another piece of the puzzle revolves around completing the rails-to-trails project known as the Paseo — from 16th Street in Pilsen to 31st Street in Little Village.

An ordinance authorizing the City Council to acquire four miles of the route from the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad was also approved Thursday.

“We believe very strongly that the tools this ordinance has put in place will allow us to slow down gentrification in Pilsen and allow us to educate residents to be able to remain in the community and preserve the community as more affordable,” said Raul Raymundo, CEO of the Resurrection Project.

The Resurrection Project has been building affordable housing in Pilsen for 25 years, Raymundo said.

“Left to market forces alone, this community would have been gentrified already. That is not the case,” he said.