Ald. Taylor grows frustrated with progress on CBA as new housing legislation goes to City Council

The Committee on Housing and Real Estate listens to Managing Deputy Commissioner Anthony E. Simpkins describe the Affordable Homeownership and Housing Program pilot ordinance, which it passed unanimously on Oct. 11. (Photo by Aaron Gettinger)

Staff writers

As the Housing Committee fast-tracked an ordinance to promote homeownership and affordable housing in gentrifying neighborhoods to City Council, Ald. Jeannette Taylor’s (20th) patience with the legislative process for her community benefits agreement (CBA) ordinance approached a breaking point.

Taylor said the Housing Department had not briefed her on the new bill, which creates a pilot to buy and preserve at-risk affordable housing in gentrifying neighborhoods. She said Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been uncommunicative and that the working group assembled to refine the CBA — an affordable requirements ordinance covering parts of the 5th and 20th wards — has not met in months.

“I feel like it’s being slow-walked for some reason that I can’t figure out,” Taylor said in an interview before the Housing and Real Estate Committee meeting. “When stuff needs to be done for other folks in the city, it doesn’t take any time. But any time it comes to folks of color, it takes forever, it seems.”

Taylor said she has met with Samir Mayekar, Lightfoot’s deputy mayor for economic development, and Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara, whom she said are spearheading the new pilot, called the Affordable Homeownership and Housing Program (AHHP). Taylor questioned why it was drafted without her input.

“They sent me an email saying they made an attempt to meet with me. I was busy; they didn’t get through,” she said. “They call me for everything else, but this is not an urgency and now I’m expected to support an ordinance that they come up with?”

Ald Jeanette Taylor (20th)

Taylor said she does not support the AHHP pilot but did not commit to voting against it in City Council, saying she needs to talk about it with constituents first.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), who introduced the CBA ordinance to City Council in July, has said that the CBA — which provides for vast, blanket affordability requirements within a two-mile radius of the planned Obama Presidential Center site — needs to be reworked under the advice of the city’s Law Department.

Taylor said she has no meetings on the CBA scheduled with Hairston, whom the Herald was not able to reach for comment on Friday.

“I need to talk with my kitchen cabinet to figure out my next steps, but to be honest, I feel like I’m all alone in this,” Taylor said. “I’m always a believer in doing what’s right, regardless of whether people agree with me or not.”

Lightfoot introduced the AHHP ordinance in July. It was referred to the Housing Committee on Sept. 11, and a substitute ordinance passed the committee on Friday, Oct. 11.

The Mayor’s ordinance allows the Department of Housing to establish an Affordable Homeownership and Housing Program. The city will allocate $3 million to the Chicago Community Land Trust, a nonprofit with a Mayor-appointed board, will administer the program to acquire and resell properties directly, cooperate with partners that will acquire and resell residential properties and establish an “opt-in” program for existing owners.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Mayor’s office said that “the challenges surrounding affordable housing must be addressed through a collaborative process and rethinking existing programs that will increase affordable housing citywide and expand resources committed to services and prevention efforts.”

“This ordinance will make it possible for people to move where it is convenient for them and expand affordable options throughout all 77 Chicago communities,” she continued. “The Lightfoot Administration remains committed to creating more affordable housing options citywide.”

Anthony Simpkins, the Housing Department’s managing deputy commissioner, said the AHHP currently monitors around 100 units resale-restricted to buyers who make up to 100% of the area median income.

As a pilot, the AHHP would apply to Woodlawn, East Garfield Park, Hermosa, Humboldt Park, Pilsen and Little Village — all neighborhoods experiencing gentrification. CCLT would use a portion of the funds to acquire homes at risk to being lost to high-cost markets.

Existing homeowners could opt into putting their properties into the CCLT, taking advantage of reduced property taxes while their deeds would be affected by long-term affordability restrictions. They would also be eligible for home-improvement grants — a change from the original ordinance, which had them as loans.

The CCLT would work with local land trusts “that have been organized or will be organized,” Simpkins said, “to help them in their efforts to acquire and sell homes.” The CBA would also create a land trust and limit the sale of its properties to households earning up to 80% of the area median income.

Under the APPH ordinance, the Housing Department will report back to the Housing Committee within 12 months of the pilot’s beginning with a report on expanding the program and types of eligible properties from single-family homes and one-flats to possible two- and three-flats.

Anti-gentrification advocates have long expressed concerns with the speed with which speculative property developers acquire properties in neighborhoods. Simpkins acknowledged this, saying, “In many of these areas, you have cash buyers who are coming in and buying these properties in very short order.” After a year, he said he hoped the Housing Department would be able to suggest ways to make their own property acquisition more efficient.

As it stands, the pilot seeks to acquire 100 properties for the CCLT. “What we’re hoping is that we can show proof of concept here and have a basis to come back to the City Council and seek additional funds to expand the program,” Simpkins said.

Devondrick Jeffers with Southside Together Organizing for Power, a constituent organization of the CBA coalition, spoke just before the Housing Committee’s vote. He neither took no position on the AHHP but took issue with its consideration while no action has been taken on the CBA ordinance.

“I’m here today, especially for Ald. Osterman, who joined us on the tour through Woodlawn. You’ve learned about the history. You’ve seen the vacant lots. You know that affordable housing is absolutely needed in this neighborhood,” he said. “I need to understand why we’re talking about this ordinance, which has had no input from the alderman from Woodlawn, but we can’t talk about the Obama Presidential Center and its CBA ordinance.”

Chairman Harry Osterman (48th) said the AHHP would positively affect Woodlawn but did not agree to put a timetable on the CBA.

“There is work that is going on on that [CBA] ordinance, and that’s something that I committed to the sponsors, something I committed to the advocates when I went on the tour of Woodlawn,” Osterman said. He said the Law, Planning and Development and Housing departments would work together with the community on an ordinance “that would benefit the residents who live there.”