Could larger affordable housing be headed to West Side?

West Side aldermen back ordinance they hope will lead to family housing

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

A new measure recently approved by the Chicago City Council could bring more affordable housing units to the West Side. The City Council voted on an ordinance on April 10 that amends the affordable housing regulations for an affordable housing pilot program designed for the Near North and Near West Sides.  

The ordinance — sponsored by Aldermen Michael Scott (24th), Walter Burnett (27th) and Jason Ervin (28th) — gives developers more flexibility to build a smaller number of larger units, said Ervin. The aldermen hope that the modified legislation will lead to a larger supply of affordable housing units that are spacious enough for families. 

For example, if a developer built a 50-studio building near United Center, she no longer has to build five studios off-site (to fulfill the affordable housing equivalent threshold); instead, they could build five two-bedroom units, two three-bedroom units and a studio, or two four-bedroom units offsite. 

The Near North/Near West Affordable Housing pilot program includes all or parts of East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park, West Humboldt Park and North Lawndale. Developers who apply for a zoning change and/or use any city financing in the pilot area must make between 15 and 20 percent of their units affordable. 

If developers don't use any Tax Increment Financing district funds, they can build up to 10 percent of those affordable units offsite — either within two miles of their development or in one of the more well-off neighborhoods outside the pilot area.

"Most of the new units that are being built in the [affordable pilot area] do not fit with what we need, particularly in the near west portion of the ARO pilot area." Ervin said. "A unit-for-unit count is generally not what is needed for East and West Garfield Park and North Lawndale." 

Ervin said that what's needed are units with at least two bedrooms that are more suitable for families. Melvin Cox, an East Garfield Park activist, echoed that sentiment. 

"What the West Side needs is housing in that $900 to $1500 a month range — whether it's [rent or a monthly mortgage payment]," he said at the time. "We need the ability to purchase two-bedroom or three-bedroom homes with modern, updated attributes, including walk-in units, in-home washers and dryers, central heat and air." 

Cox said that this kind of affordable housing would attract working-class families who would, in turn, send their kids to local schools and shop at local businesses. 

According to statistics compiled by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, a major housing-related issue on the West Side isn't so much the size of the apartment as the age of housing. The majority of housing on the West Side was built before 1940 and the amount of housing built since 2000 accounts for the smallest percentage of the overall housing stock in all West Side communities except for North Lawndale. 

Burnett said that the upside to this reality is that real estate costs less on much of the West Side west of Western Avenue than it does further east, so developers should be able to build larger units without spending more money.

CONTACT: michael@austinweeklynews.com   

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