Candidates agree more affordable housing needed

Ald. Leslie Hairston (left), and candidates William Calloway (center) and Gabriel Piemonte (right) listen as Linda Thisted, president of the Coalition for Equitable Community Development (CECD), asks: “Assuming rent control is allowed, would you support some form of rent stabilization in the ward?” (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

By Samantha Smylie
Contributing Writer

On Feb. 9, the 4th and 5th Ward aldermanic candidates discussed affordable housing issues at a forum sponsored by the Coalition for Equitable Community Development (CECD) and held at the Church of St. Paul and the Redeemer, 4945 S. Dorchester Ave.

All 5th Ward candidates – Ald. Leslie Hairston and challengers William Calloway and Gabriel Piemonte – were present, but 4th Ward representation was sparse: Ald. Sophia King did not attend, and her challenger, Ebony Lucas, arrived late after dealing with a personal emergency.

Linda Thisted, President of the CECD, introduced the crowd to CECD’s work and defined affordable housing and issues around affordable housing in the Hyde Park neighborhood. Afterward, the candidates made opening statements.

Hairston stressed the work she did to renovate the Stony Island Art Bank, turning the Urban Partnership Bank into an entertainment center, and she then pointed out that she recently closed a deal to bring a full-service grocery store to South Shore. Hairston said she had obtained 90 units of affordable housing in the ward.

Calloway talked about the differences between the northern and southern parts of the ward. Calloway said that the southern part of the ward did not have grocery store for over 6 years and the issue of gun violence was a concern for constituents. Before finishing his statement, Calloway said he supported term limits because he does not believe that aldermen should be running for more than two terms.

Piemonte said he believes that there should be a more options for affordable housing. He mentioned how the accessibility of food, daycare, and school within a neighborhood should be a part of the affordable housing conversation. Before closing his statement, Piemonte briefly mentioned the differences between Hyde Park, Woodlawn, and South Shore around affordable housing and how community members view housing.

After opening statements, candidates had to answer three questions from the CECD.

The first question: Would they would increase affordable housing in the city and throughout the ward?

Each candidate said that they support increasing affordable housing.

Hairston focused on what she has done during her time in office to bring more affordable housing in the ward.

Calloway talked about the number of evictions in the South Shore neighborhood and how the Chicago Housing Authority has withheld funds from voucher holders.

Piemonte restated Calloway’s point about CHA withholding funds from voucher holders and how that should not happen. He talked about holding developers accountable by looking at their balance sheet and not reward developers who do not maintain buildings or have a lot of evictions. Piemonte said he believes that the Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO) is not enough and talked about discussing options for affordable housing.

Hairston challenged Calloway and Piemonte to say that CHA is a separate entity and that aldermen do not have a vote over what CHA does. She stated that she has worked with landlords and have gone to court to protect citizens in units.

The second question: What percentage of affordable housing would each candidate support for all new developments within the ward, beyond the city’s requirements?

Calloway said that he would have to research the question but thinks that a third of housing is “healthy”.

Piemonte said he believes that a percentage is hard to come up with unless you are talking about a specific development but agrees that a third of affordable housing or even a half depending on the development. Piemonte said he thinks that when city officials say that they don’t have anything to do with a city agency then “we have a crisis.”

Hairston argued that the city looks at 30% for affordable housing but can go up to 40% because most of the affordable housing in Hyde Park is filled quickly, which demonstrates a need for more. She mentioned her record of exceeding the requirements that the ARO has set for new development during her time as alderman.

The third question: “Assuming that rent control becomes legal in Illinois, would you support some form of rent stabilization in the ward. If so, what form?”

Piemonte said that he is a firm believer of rent control. He stated that he is for the Community Benefits Agreement, because he feels that the community needs to be involved in organizing developments and seeing how new development will impact the community. To stabilize rent, Piemonte said that we should freeze property taxes because when property taxes increase for landlords, renters are impacted. Before ending his answer, Piemonte said that he is an advocate for community counsels so that communities can have more involvement in what developments can be built in the neighborhood.

Hairston wants to focus on bonding to stabilize the neighborhood and rents, bonds from the city would help landlords to maintain their properties without increasing rent for renters.

Calloway is concerned about gentrification especially with the Obama Presidential Center coming to the ward and wants to advocate for rent control.

Because she arrived late, Lucas did not answer the questions. She made a statement about why she was running for the office.