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Aldermen, housing advocates tout proposals for affordability

The progressive group struck a bolder stance after a task force it worked on ducked specifics.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) addresses a community rally in August.
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) addresses a community rally in August.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Progressive aldermen and community groups Wednesday urged the mayor to support specific changes to improve housing affordability, protecting low-income families and stopping the city’s population loss.

The group, organized as the Chicago Housing Initiative, included participants in Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Inclusionary Housing Task Force, which on Monday released general recommendations for the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance. But the task force failed to settle on specifics and it did not provide a draft of a new ordinance.

If anything, the progressive coalition’s follow-up proposals highlighted the divisions on the mayor’s task force and shows that she’ll have a challenge in building broad support around a housing ordinance.

“We had a consensus that this ordinance needed to change,” said Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), who served on the task force. He’s advocating proposals from the progressive wing.

Sigcho-Lopez said housing advocates are trying to counter the influence of developers in past city policies involving housing. “It seemed like developers had a heavyweight in the conversations and they were driving the conversations,” he said.

The alderman praised Lightfoot for her willingness to tackle the problem.

Sigcho-Lopez’s group called for lowering the income requirements for residents to qualify for affordable housing, in some cases dropping it from 60% of the region’s median income to 20%. Currently, the area’s median income for a family of four is $54,600.

The coalition also called for a “density fee” applying to all housing developers that would fund the creation of affordable units. The coalition included six other alderpersons and leaders of the groups ONE Northside, Access Living and the Northwest Side Housing Center.

Real estate interests — who were represented on Lightfoot’s task force — are certain to argue that new requirements and fees will make housing more expensive for everyone and will snuff out new construction.

“We all have to come to the table to find a middle ground,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “We are bringing specific solutions and discussing them in good faith.”

He said he has seen stepped-up requirements for affordable housing work in Pilsen, where new development remains active. “I wouldn’t be pushing for this if I hadn’t seen it work,” he said.

The city’s housing commissioner, Marisa Novara, has said the administration hopes to have a new ordinance ready for consideration this winter. The City Council’s housing committee is scheduled to discuss the task force report Sept. 23.