Lightfoot’s massive rewrite of affordable housing ordinance sails through committee

The 14-to-3 vote by the City Council’s Housing Committee sets the stage for final action by the City Council on Wednesday.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks during a news conference at City Hall about the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s affordable housing ordinance was approved 14-3 by a City Council committee Tuesday.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to overhaul Chicago’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance to create sorely needed affordable housing sailed through a City Council committee Tuesday despite demands for more family-sized housing.

The 14-to-3 vote by the City Council’s Housing Committee sets the stage for final action at the City Council meeting Wednesday. That would allow Lightfoot to deliver on her campaign promise to raise the bar for developers receiving city subsidies, city land or a zoning change.

Aldermen voting “no” were Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), Anthony Napolitano (41st) and Maria Hadden (49th).

Sigcho-Lopez said the mayor’s 20-member task force was “within reach of a great agreement” but missed — by failing to require 30% of all affordable units to have two bedrooms and 15% to have three bedrooms.

He also had wanted affordable units made available to families earning 40% of an area’s median income.

“Why not at least a percentage of family-sized units? ... Families who are right now losing hours, have been unemployed or have seen a reduction in their income. We do think that it’s responsible to make sure that they are included,” Sigcho-Lopez said.

“Mayor Lightfoot talks about oftentimes bringing people back to the city. We’ve got to do it with housing.”

Hadden called the massive rewrite a “pretty big step forward,” particularly when it comes to solving the problem of “how housing has been so segregated economically and racially” in Chicago.

“Where we’re falling short … is really getting into the level of affordability that we need to see for our residents,” Hadden said.

“Getting that 40% [of area median income] as an average, instead of 60%. How we’re making family-sized units more affordable. … That’s where my biggest concerns are. … Is it enough as we get to the affordability piece? That concern is why I’m not gonna be able to support this.”

Napolitano could not be reached to discuss his vote.

Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara said the mayor’s ordinance does include changes to bolster the number of family-sized units, since off-site units now must be “two bedrooms or more,” she said.

“The reason that we felt we could mandate that in off-site units is that we typically see those as either new construction or rehabs of existing buildings where the floor plate allows for that,” Novara said.

“The reason we are not mandating it across the board ... is that some buildings can absorb that and could add two- and three-bedroom units and some cannot,” she added.

“If you’ve got a high-rise building, we are not paying for what it costs to realign the water lines, the plumbing stacks and the load-bearing walls to add, let’s say three-bedroom units if those were not in the building to begin with. If we’re not paying for that, we don’t feel we can mandate it.”

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) marveled at how far the Affordable Requirements Ordinance has come since he pressured former Mayor Richard M. Daley to create it.

“We’ve gone from not having any [Affordable Requirements Ordinance] to being on our third rendition of it. And each time, it gets better. Each time, we seem to be able to get more. Each time, the department gets more and more flexible,” Burnett said.

“So I’m grateful for what we have. I’m grateful for what we can get. Of course, I’m gonna continue to try to get as much as I can however I can for the people in my community. But I support this 100%.”

Uptown Ald. James Cappleman (46th) applauded Novara for “finding that sweet spot.”

“Too little ... means we lose out on affordable housing that we could have had. Too much placed on developers means that we again lose out on affordable housing because they won’t do developments,” Cappleman said.

The existing ordinance requires developers to make 10% to 20% of the units they build or renovate affordable or pay hefty fees in lieu of building on-site units.

The new ordinance would raise the bar to 20%, but only downtown, in neighborhoods facing displacement of low-income residents or with “low current levels” of affordable housing.

Developers would still be able to pay their way out of the requirement to build affordable units, but those fees could cover only 50% of the units, instead of 75%.

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