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Emanuel to unveil preservation strategy for Pilsen and Little Village

A mural celebrating Mexican history is painted on a wall along a commercial strip in the predominately Mexican Little Village neighborhood on October 16, 2017. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

A mural celebrating Mexican history is painted on a wall along a commercial strip in the predominately Mexican Little Village neighborhood on October 16, 2017. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Mayor Rahm Emanuel will join local aldermen on Tuesday in unveiling a “community-based strategy” to preserve the “culture, character and affordability” of Pilsen and Little Village, the Midwest’s largest Mexican community.

Before pulling the plug on his own re-election bid, Emanuel rolled out a virtual conveyor belt of programs to solve Chicago’s affordable housing crisis.

The mayor’s final budget subsequently resurrected the Department of Housing disbanded a decade ago to implement Chicago’s next five-year housing plan and “allow the City to meet the market where it is in every neighborhood, partnering with developers to implement existing tools and create new strategies where needed.”

The new “preservation strategy” for Pilsen and Little Village is the first test.

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 plan also calls for using an “industrial modernization strategy” to create more “head-of-household” jobs and improving parks and open space to make Pilsen and Little Village more livable.

The Affordable Requirements Ordinance pilot will be introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

It 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 the 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 would be used to preserve the area’s “Baroque-inspired mixed-use and residential buildings” along 18th Street and Blue Island Avenue.

The employment component will attempt to promote “job-intensive uses that support families” and companion transportation improvements within two industrial corridors in Pilsen and Little Village.

The process started last spring with the Little Village industrial corridor. A framework plan for regulatory land use improvements is expected early next year. The planning process for the Pilsen industrial corridor is expected to start early next year.

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 will be introduced this week.

“The Paseo represents a great opportunity. But it also represents a potential issue in terms of housing. Some of the concerns and lessons learned from the 606…lead to an understanding: You can’t simply do open space. We have to also prepare for some of the potential ramifications on housing,” said Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifman.

Noting that the “character of the buildings is very important to the attractiveness” of Pilsen and Little Village, Reifman said he’s also taken lessons learned from the burgeoning Fulton Market neighborhood.

“By bringing these things out together with an ARO pilot, injecting certain resources into the community, a landmark district, open space enhancements and industrial corridor modernization, we kind of take the work of the existing pilots a step further and do an overall exercise in community planning and preservation,” the commissioner said.

More than 80 percent of the 115,000 residents of Pilsen and Little Village “identify as Latino,” compared to 29 percent citywide, according to the American Community Survey.

Local Ald. George Cardenas (12th) welcomed the city’s multi-faceted approach. But he argued that even more needs to be done to stop gentrification from pushing out longtime residents.

“Whenever there’s high-price pressure in the periphery of downtown –– in areas like Wicker Park and Humboldt Park –– that displacement then comes south and folks end up moving to more affordable areas. People who have been there a long time cannot compete with those prices,” Cardenas said.

“We need to be more aggressive. But it’s a question of funds.”