Department of Planning and Development releases draft report consolidating more than 10 studies on Woodlawn ahead of city’s housing ordinance

Chicago Department of Planning and DevelopmentCommissioner Maurice Cox speaks to a group of people attending an open house on Woodlawn neighborhood development and housing at Hyde Park Academy High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., Thursday evening. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

By SAMANTHA SMYLIE
Staff writer

The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) released a draft of the Woodlawn Plan Consolidation Report at a Jan. 30 open house, seeking to guide future development in the neighborhood with a review of past and present research and recommendations.

At Hyde Park Academy, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., the DPD and DOH sought feedback from locals about the affordable housing preservation ordinance and the draft of the report, which is designed to reflect the community’s vision for future density, marketing city-owned land for redevelopment and housing goals

Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara and DPD Commissioner Maurice Cox were present during the event to listen to resident but refused requests for media comment, saying that they were only focused on residents. The report will be refined during a public comment period.

Copies of the report were available for review during the open house. The report highlights reports from the city, nonprofit organizations, neighborhood groups and other stakeholders. One of the reports date back to 2005, and there has been more than 10 reports over the course of 15 years.

While all of the reports have a different focus, they have provided insight on locally owned retail options, reestablishment of the 63rd Street business corridor and redevelopment of vacant building and lots.

While the city acknowledged that there were previous plans created by community members, one resident wanted to see more collaboration between the city and community organizations. Debra Adams, the Northeast quadrant leader for the Network of Woodlawn, was drawn to a poster regarding vacant schools — Wadsworth, Fiske and Betsy Ross — in the neighborhood.

“What I explained to them, their supervisors and their bosses are already aware, we have been working on these things for the past four years. We have renderings of what they should like when we break ground, that’s how far along we are,” she said.

Adams felt that the city was “sidestepping” the Network of Woodlawn’s work over the last four years. The organization represents close to 600 people, and they have created plans for vacant schools in the neighborhoods even providing renderings of what the vacant school buildings should be in the future.

She hopes that the two groups can come together to “bring life into Woodlawn.”

“It is trickling in, but as we develop more land and redevelop vacant buildings, we’re going to see, I believe, our population soar,” Adams continued.

Residents mostly chatted with officials about the proposed affordable housing ordinance that the DOH revealed two weeks ago. The ordinance has received pushback from the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition for not going further enough on affordable housing measures.

Woods Wiser of UChicago Against Displacement working group, one of the constituent organizations of the CBA Coalition, felt that the current ordinance scaled back a lot of the provisions in the CBA ordinance like the geographical location it covers  and definition of affordability.

“I think that their answer has been that maybe the effects of gentrification will be most acutely felt in Woodlawn and I think that we’re coming at it from a perspective that gentrification may be worst in Woodlawn but affordable housing is a problem everywhere and this is a good way to try to make affordable housing something that is more available to people in a lot of different neighborhoods,” Wiser said, when he asked officials why was the location shrinked from Kenwood, Hyde Park, Woodlawn and South Shore to only Woodlawn.

After attending the meeting, his remaining concern is the use of city-owned vacant land to create affordable housing, saying, “Their goal is to make a lot of it into housing and businesses and they have very loose and vague goals about that. I would like to see improvement in making clear cut requirements for the city on what’s affordable.”

“One thing that we want to see is affordability requirements to the tune of 30% of Area Median Income or less, so that people are able to afford the housing with these new units,” Wiser said. “The reason for that is that 30% AMI, which is done on the greater Chicago area, is about what the median income is in the Woodlawn area, that’s who is relevant. If you do anything higher than that you’re excluding a large portion of the population.

“If you’re excluding half the population, then it’s like ‘what’s the point?’ You need to protect the people who are the most vulnerable.”

Charles Perry of Westside Health Authority, another member organization of the CBA Coalition, echoed Wiser’s sentiments around affordability.

“They don’t address the need as much as we would like,” he said. “I mean, it’s in there, but we understand that most folks that we are representing make less than $20,000 a year. So, if that be the case where is there any protection for them in this ordinance?

“If you were a person who makes $15 an hour and you work 40 hours a week. That’s 2,080 hours a year, that comes out to $31,200 before taxes. If you’re someone who has to pay $1100, $1200, $1300 or $1400 a month in rent, you’re paying half of your take-home pay in rent. If you’re a mother with two or three children, how are you supposed to live?”

Perry also brought up the topic of using vacant schools for transitional housing for formerly incarcerated people.

“Some of our communities are receiving hundreds and thousands of people every year and the reason they recidivate is because of housing,” he said. “Housing is the number one issue that is a concern for people returning home from prison because they don’t have it. We have structures and buildings in all of these communities that if we took one and made it into a transitional house that actually gave job training and career development in it so they can get everything they need there so they can go off and be productive members in society.”

Carmen Ruffin, a 16-year Woodlawn resident, wants to ensure that residents are not displaced and that homeowners’ property values increase because she sees it as a way to attract more businesses in the neighborhood.

“When your property value rises you can tap into your home like everyone else. You get to have a type of inheritance for your family. Your kids will benefit from the work that you’ve put in. We don’t pass on any type of inheritance because we don’t get the same benefits that they get in Lakeview or Roscoe Village. Those houses aren’t even in as good of a location as Woodlawn but they are worth $600,000 or $700,000,” she said.

Throughout the evening, residents talked to officials and left comments for both departments to look over while coordinating these proposed plans. The DOH has not scheduled another community meeting yet, but DPD will take comments on the consolidation plan at DPD@cityofchicago.org.

A final version of the report will be presented to the Chicago Plan Commission at 10 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 21 at City Hall.

s.smylie@hpherald.com