Housing Committee passes ordinance allowing city to acquire 7 properties in Woodlawn

The Housing Committee discusses the ordinance at today’s meeting. (Photo by Aaron Gettinger)

Staff writer

The Committee on Housing and Real Estate today passed Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposed ordinance to allow Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara to acquire seven properties in Woodlawn – all vacant lots or abandoned buildings – for $3 million from Community Initiatives Inc (CII).

The measure now goes to the full City Council, which is scheduled to meet on Jan. 15.

On Jan. 6, Crain’s Chicago Business reported that CII had acquired the properties that the city wanted to purchase. CII is a nonprofit corporation established by Community Investment Corporation, a neighborhood revitalization nonprofit that has disgributed $1.3 billion in loans since 1984 and is funded by more than 40 financial institutions.

Crain’s reported that CII Director Jonah Hess said the city wanted to buy the properties — 6232 S. Woodlawn Ave., 1140 E. 63rd St., 6239 S. University Ave., 6312 S. Woodlawn Ave., 6310 S. Woodlawn Ave., 6445 S. Kimbark Ave. and 6521 S. Evans Ave. — so that development is “not totally driven by market forces.” He acknowledged “a desire to try to have some influence over the planning process and what’s happening with vacant land in Woodlawn.”

“The creation and preservation of affordable housing throughout every neighborhood is a top priority for the Lightfoot Administration,” the mayor’s office said in a statement. “Acquisition of these seven properties in Woodlawn through the Troubled Buildings Initiative (TBI) will ensure that any housing developed on them will go toward addressing the City’s affordable housing shortage and safeguard fair and equitable development of the neighborhood.”

Paul Elue, a Department of Housing official who testified in favor of the ordinance, said it would guide development along the 63rd Street corridor and work against the violence and economic decline in the area.

Anthony Simpkins, deputy commissioner for affordable housing preservation, said the properties are being “reserved … for development in accordance with some of the community planning that’s going on in Woodlawn.”

When the city asks the partner nonprofit corporations to do so, “They can transfer those properties to the city, so that we can control the redevelopment of those properties,” Simpkins said.

Kenwood Ald. Sophia King (4th) voted for the measure, which passed unanimously. Woodlawn Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th), who is not on the Housing Committee, could not be reached for comment.

Don Terry, a Housing Department spokesman, said the administration plans to introduce Lightfoot’s Woodlawn housing legislation to City Council in February. The mayor’s legislation is being designed to prevent displacement of current Woodlawn residents and to preserve affordability in rentals, encourage home ownership and leverage existing opportunities, including leveraging city-owned vacant land.

Committee Chairman Harry Osterman (48th) said the Housing Department was being strategic in acquiring the seven properties and acting in Woodlawn’s best interest, though he said he was not aware of the Lightfoot administration’s specific housing plans for the neighborhood.

“Sometimes it’s good for the city to acquire property, to plan with communities to come up with positive developments and have more affordable housing,” he said. “There’s times when it’s good for the city to acquire property and put it to good use, with a full community partner and the elected officials who are from the elected community.”

The properties were among those formerly owned by Rev. Leon Finney Jr. that were sold at an auction in October.