During a Chicago City Council Committee on Housing and Real Estate meeting on Dec. 6, representatives of the Garfield Park Community Council and other community groups urged aldermen to delay the vote on the city’s 2019-2023 Housing Plan. The plan is expected to get final approval during a Dec. 12 City Council meeting. 

Most community members argued that the $1.14 billion the city is allocating for the housing plan over the next five years isn’t nearly enough to accomplish the lofty goals of maintaining affordability in gentrifying neighborhoods, tackling the legacy of decades of discrimination and segregation, and increasing housing options for some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

During the committee meeting, activists urged the aldermen to delay the vote until the summer, when the city will have a new mayor and new City Council members, since they will be the ones implementing the plan. 

But the aldermen on the committee were unmoved, with all of the committee members present voting present in order to send the matter to the Dec. 12 council meeting. 

The City of Chicago has been doing five-year housing plans since 1994, in order to try to address the city’s housing needs. Although the 2014-2018 plan focuses on dealing with the consequences of the collapse of the real estate bubble, the 2019-23 plan focuses on encouraging more affordable housing and rental options. 

Since there is less state and federal funding to go around, the plan places more priority on partnerships with other government entities, community organizations and private developers. It also focuses on alternative funding sources and reducing costs.

The plan divides Chicago into three areas: “lower cost” markets that can use some investment, “moderate-cost” markets where rising property values have threatened displacement and “high-cost” markets where affordability is a serious concern. 

On the West Side, “lower cost” markets include most of Austin north of Division Street, all of East Garfield Park, and all but the easternmost portions of East Garfield Park and North Lawndale. 

“Moderate-cost” markets include West Humboldt Park Galewood and the remaining portions of Austin, East Garfield Park and North Lawndale.

For lower-cost markets, the city’s priority would be to address vacant and abandoned buildings, increase public and private investment, improve existing resources and do more to encourage home ownership. 

For moderate-cost markets, the priority would be to “proactively preserve affordable housing” by working with local organizations to help them combat gentrification-induced displacement, building more affordable housing and offering incentives to help homeowners stay in their neighborhoods and help landlords keep their buildings affordable. 

During the discussion of the plan, Ald. Michael Scott (24th) touched on building a forfeiture program, which allows building owners of hazardous properties to forfeit them to the city so that they can be transferred to third parties that can pay off the property taxes and other debt owed to the city. 

The alderman said he liked the program, but he urged the city to figure out a way to speed up the process.

“I think a lot of these tools take a bit longer than we want them to take and the longer we have buildings sit abandoned […] the more it takes to get it back on tax rolls,” Scott said. “How do we [reduce time] to make sure we get properties back on the tax rolls and into the hands of developers that are indigenous to the community?” 

Anthony Simpkins, the managing deputy commissioner of housing, responded that the city was working on the plan described by Scott, but since much of the property transfer process is in the hands of the courts, there’s only so much they can do.

Some aldermen said that the city spends far too little on housing and needs to invest more than the $1.1 billion that the plan calls for over five years. That number, critics argued, is a relatively small fraction of the city’s annual budget. 

Many speakers at the meeting voiced similar concerns.  Most of them were part of the Chicago Housing Justice League, a collaborative of 37 non-profit organizations that work together on housing issues. 

Theron Hawk, a Garfield Park community organizer, argued that the plan falls short.

“If we’re truly [working on] keeping black families on the West Side, we need three-bedroom, affordable family units,” he said. “The rents are too high and many families are cost-burdened. We have serious issues on West Side, including segregation, displacement. So that is why [the Garfield Park Community Council] recommends that the committee postpones the vote until after both aldermanic and mayoral elections are held.”

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Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...