Future of affordable housing finds a home

By Usman Ahmed

Department of Housing Commissioner John Markowski, B.S. ’74, met last Tuesday with students at the Harris School of Public Policy to discuss the city of Chicago’s new five-year plan.

The city of Chicago’s plan calls for $1.9 billion to build, preserve, and assist in developing 48,000 units of affordable housing in the city.

Markowski, invited to discuss the city’s plan by the student organization Community and Economic Development Organization (CEDO), gave a talk entitled “Build. Preserve. Lead: A Housing Agenda for Chicago’s Neighborhoods.”

The brown-bag lunch discussion, which lasted about 45 minutes, was the Commissioner’s second in what will be a series of presentations on the city’s new plan. Markowski first unveiled the city’s plan to the public before a large crowd at the City Club of Chicago.

According to Janina Castillo, the director of public relations for the Department of Housing, the final plan was developed during a six-month process in which developers, lenders, community organizations, and housing policy experts all gave their input at a series of Department of Housing meetings. She added that residents were also invited to testify at three public hearings held by the department during the summer.

Castillo believes the plan demonstrates Chicago’s continued leadership in ensuring that affordable housing is available in the city.

“The five-year plan is just one component of the City’s overall commitment to affordability and housing,” Castillo said. She added that while many cities across the country are facing budget constraints, Chicago has increased its financial commitment to affordable housing.

The Department of Housing said it was very proud of the nature of the plan. “Partnerships are key to the work that we do, and this plan would never have been as strong as it is were it not for the invaluable contributions of our many partners,” First Deputy Commissioner Rich Monocchio said.

Leslie Sperber, a second-year in the Harris School, agrees.  Sperber, an officer with CEDO, helped arrange Markowski’s visit so that University students could share their concerns with the City.

“The discussion was relevant, especially for policy and social work students to understand the state of affordable housing and the strategic plans the city is developing,” she said. Sperber believes that it’s important to understand the local government’s tactics and its limitations to help determine where students can effectively contribute to help causes.

Sperber added that she felt the discussion was very relevant to society in general and that while the Harris School often sponsors discussions by policy researchers, government officials are less frequent contributors at the school.

Markowski made it clear that affordable housing is a top priority for the city. However, he acknowledged that there are many challenges to the city’s proposal, explaining that the city’s approach to remedying its housing situation is a multifaceted process.

According to the plan, the city will offer many incentives to create new affordable housing. The city envisions that this goal can be obtained through several programs such as “New Homes for Chicago” and partnerships with organizations such as the Chicago Partnership for Affordable Neighborhoods, as well as through new financial methods.

The plan also calls on preserving much of the city’s existing affordable housing. Castillo said that the city plans to aggressively preserve federally assisted housing stock, to reduce the loss of housing to decay or demolition, and to pursue acquisitions of vacant single family homes while quickly converting them into productive, affordable housing.

Another element of the plan includes assisting households with housing expenses, such as rent payment, through financial assistance and counseling programs.

The final aspect of the city’s plan is to continue to give attention to the issue of affordable housing, drawing on cooperation from the public and private sect