Here's Rahm's Plan To Boost Affordable Housing On Milwaukee & Gentrifying Streets. Can It Work?

By Stephen Gossett in News on Aug 28, 2017 5:44PM

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Photo: Aaron Cynic

How to increase affordable housing in gentrifying neighborhoods remains perhaps the hottest of all hot-button topics in terms of Chicago urbanism. Against that always-fraught context, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday announced a proposed pilot plan designed to boost affordable housing some areas of the city where the “g” word has raged or threatens to rage hardest—though some affordability advocates are already somewhat skeptical.

The pilot plan—announced by Rahm in conjunction with Walter Burnett and Ald. Proco Joe Moreno—targets three areas: the Near North Side, the Near West Side and the Milwaukee Avenue corridor that includes parts of Logan Square, Avondale and West Town. The Near North Side area spans several miles near the North Branch Industrial Corridor, which—after the city's revamp framework cleared—is poised for a major residential/business transformation... which is already starting.

The most notable aspect of the proposal is that it would get rid of the so-called “in lieu” fee option in its target areas. The city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance mandates that 10 percent of residences (on or offsite) be made affordable for any development with 10 or more units that requires a zoning change. But the ordinance allows developers to build fewer than that mandated number if they instead pay a fee (up to $225,00) into the Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund. Under the three-year pilot initiative, that option would removed within the three zones.

The measure would also raise the affordable-unit obligation and up the number of residents who would be eligible. For the Milwaukee corridor: the unit obligation would go from 10 percent to 15 percent (or 20 percent if the developer builds offsite). At the same time, the number of households eligible would also climb, to include those who earn up to 80 percent of area median income ($50,600 for a two-person household).

For Near North, the affordable housing mandate would be 20 percent. According to the announcement:

Half of the required units must be built on site or off-site within two miles in the same ARO zone (60 percent AMI/$37,920 for a two-person household). The remainder could be built anywhere in the same pilot area (100 percent AMI/$63,200 for a two-person household).

For the Near West portion, the mandate rises to 15 percent affordable housing. Two-thirds of the unites must be built on site or within 2 miles and in the same Affordable Requirement Ordinance zone (60 percent AMI) and one-third of units could be built anywhere covered in the pilot program.

The program was praised by Ald. Moreno, who has a history of pushing developers to build at least some affordable units rather than pay out through the fee, although activists in his ward (which includes Logan Square) have long pushed for much higher percentages of affordable housing, as high as 50 percent.

As DNAinfo points out, progressive alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (Ward 35) called the plan "a joke and a handout to developers" and blasted the plan's underlying numbers. Ramirez-Rosa's ward also covers a portion of Logan Square.

The Milwaukee Avenue corridor that cuts one of the plan's target spots remains in the midst of a sweeping development boom.

The pilot program will be introduced to City Council on Sept. 6, according to the city.