The City Council moved Wednesday to preserve affordable housing and slow gentrification that has displaced so many long-time residents of Pilsen and the neighborhoods of Logan Square, Wicker Park, Humboldt Park and Bucktown around the wildly popular 606 trail.
The “anti-deconversion” ordinances championed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot would generally make it more difficult for owners and developers of property on certain blocks to turn their multi-unit buildings into expensive single-family homes that only exacerbate Chicago’s affordable housing crisis.
The 606 protections were approved in conjunction with a two-month extension of anti-demolition rules. That will buy time for the city and local aldermen to finalize a more sweeping protection plan that includes “demolition impact fees.”
During a Zoning Committee meeting earlier this week, Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) warned that the de-conversion ordinances amount to an illegal “regulatory taking of property” as defined by the U.S. Constitution.
“I don’t think you can simply say that this is a land-use issue. … This is a policy priority for this administration to force people who own multiple units to provide affordable housing — even if it is against their interest in creating a single-unit residency on that same property,” Lopez said.
“What you’re forcing people to do is if they have a two-flat and they choose to make it a single-family home, they’re not gonna be able to do it, even though, as a property owner, it would be their right to do it everywhere else in the city of Chicago. What you’re forcing people to do is to now live with a two-flat they will not rent.”
Daniel Hertz, director of policy for the city’s Department of Housing, disagreed.
“There is no requirement in this ordinance that units in these buildings be rented for any certain amount. So there’s no legal restrictions on affordability,” Hertz said.
“Where the department is coming from is that we know that this is a type of housing that often does provide moderate-cost housing in many Chicago neighborhoods. But this is not forcing owners into an affordability agreement with the city at all.”
Lopez was not appeased.
“This opens the door for starting to dictate to other neighborhoods that people are not in control of the properties they own . . . That sets a very dangerous precedent,” he said.
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) said the de-conversion ordinance is “not a silver bullet,” but a reasonable alternative to a “huge landmark designation” that would have made his fast-gentrifying community even more expensive.
“We have seen developers coming in and have little oversight over what comes into the community, losing naturally-occurring affordable housing by the thousands. … We have lost, because of the lack of action, 14,000 residents over the last decade-plus,” Sigcho-Lopez said.
“It is urgent that we start developing policies … so that we can allow our community to have public meetings as we revise the new projects. We strongly believe that we can have development without displacement. But that will … depend on the conversations that we’re having. Not doing anything is not an option. We continue to see people leaving the city. They’re leaving because of lack of affordable housing and social services.”
In other action
Wednesday’s City Council meeting was the first of the new year. Aldermen made the most of it by giving final sign-off to the plan by Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) to turn a home on a crime-plagued block in Roseland into a privately-funded mecca for community policing.
The City Council also signed off on a cargo expansion project at O’Hare Airport and the $55.6 million in bonds to bankroll the next phase of work after Aeroterm agreed to hire Black and Hispanic contractors to build the facility.
Aldermen also introduced a flurry of new legislation:
• A proposal by Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s City Council floor leader, to relax restrictions governing home businesses as Chicagoans continue to work from home during the pandemic.
The new rules would: let home businesses expand to “accessory structures” as well as dwelling units; more than triple the amount of square footage allowed; lift the ban on construction or landscaping business that provide for storage of goods and materials to be utilized in the operation of the business; and increase the hours home businesses can accept shipments or deliveries.
• A proposal by Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) for City Council hearings on an “equitable redistricting process” to redraw the boundaries of Chicago wards.
The concept of allowing an independent commission to draw the new ward lines did not sit well with Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th), chairman of the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus. He wants Chicago aldermen to draw the lines, just as always.
“We should be the ones in control of creating our future boundaries of our future Latino wards and dismiss the myth that an independent commission would truly represent our interests,” Maldonado said.
“Ten years ago, knowing the history of what happened, we were played. Latinos, we were played. We ended up with less seats in the City Council than the ones we should have had. This time around, we cannot allow that to happen.”
Lightfoot acknowledged aldermen “have a very specific role to play and they should.”
But, the old process needs to change.
“This can’t be a backroom, closed-door deal that the public has no insight into because, whatever the product is, it is not gonna have legitimacy. And for those aldermen concerned about re-election, a good way to invite a challenge is to completely lock the public out of the process,” the mayor said.