City Allocates $4.5 Million to Housing Plan for Woodlawn

The City released a new version of the Woodlawn affordable housing draft ordinance, but does not have a schedule for when it will be brought to a vote.

By Brad Subramaniam, Contributor

Mayor of Chicago Lori Lightfoot and the Department of Housing (DOH) updated Woodlawn’s affordable housing draft ordinance to appropriate an additional $4.5 million toward loan and housing rehabilitation programs last Monday, according to a press release published last Tuesday.

The proposed ordinance was based on the City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development’s (DPD) draft report, the Woodlawn Report, which recommended passing DOH’s planned ordinance. The report, released on January 29, combined the results of 11 different studies conducted by community organizations and civic agencies over the past 15 years, and advised selling most of the 51 acres of vacant land in the Woodlawn area. 

However, the previous versions of the ordinance overlooked a proposed Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) endorsed by 29 aldermen, which would have expanded affordable housing and tenants’ rights within two miles of the planned Obama Presidential Center (OPC) in Jackson Park.

The current draft ordinance would also be expanded to cover the entire Woodlawn area, as opposed to previous versions which only included census tracts within three-fifths of a mile of the OPC. 

In addition to City funding, the plan is also expected to attract $5 million of private investment toward loan funds, and would give current building residents first rights to purchase their building before the landlord puts it up for sale. 

Though the updated ordinance attempted to assuage concerns of gentrification resulting from the planned construction of the OPC, some advocates still feel the ordinance does not do enough to prevent displacement. Critics of the plan include 20th Ward Alderman Jeanette Taylor, who has called for expanded anti-displacement measures. The 20th Ward encompasses most of Woodlawn, along with parts of Washington Park, Englewood, and Back of the Yards.

“This doesn’t protect everyone,” Taylor told *Block Club Chicago*. Taylor added that she planned to further negotiate with Lightfoot on Monday after meeting with community organizations and residents. 

Taylor specifically took issue with the City’s requirements for housing development on City-owned land. The ordinance would require that developers on City-owned land set aside 10 percent of housing units in small complexes with at least six apartments for residents earning less than 80 percent of area median income, and 5 percent of housing units in buildings with more than 15 units for residents earning less than 50 percent of median income. Taylor argued that these protections were not enough leverage to prevent displacement.

However, Fifth Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston, who had worked with Taylor to introduce the Community Benefits Agreement last year, spoke highly of the updated draft ordinance at her ward meeting on Tuesday. She added that the new proposed ordinance did more to provide affordable housing for Woodlawn residents than the earlier CBA ordinance.

Lightfoot’s $4.5 million plan includes a $1.5 million expansion of the City’s Preservation of Existing Affordable Rentals (PEAR) program, which would allow landlords to more easily refinance multifamily buildings for up to zero percent interest provided the units stay affordable for the next 30 years. 

It also allocates $500,000 to Renew Woodlawn, a program which helps low-income individuals purchase homes, and $1.5 million for Woodlawn’s Loan Fund, which funds the purchase and improvement of vacant units for affordable housing.

The Office of the Mayor announced on Thursday that housing officials would continue to meet with aldermen and stakeholders, but that a timetable was not yet available for when the draft ordinance would be introduced to the City Council for voting.