The battle to build more affordable housing in wealthy Chicago neighborhoods in a bid to tackle the city’s deep economic and racial divisions by reducing the power of aldermen will face a crucial test on Tuesday amid a federal inquiry into course on the deep-rooted practice.
Chicago’s city council zoning committee is due to vote on a proposal to build 297 apartments on vacant land near O’Hare Airport on Tuesday, a crucial test of whether city council is willing to face the role that its decades-old tradition of giving aldermen the final say on housing developments in their neighborhoods has helped fuel segregation in Chicago.
As the 19-member committee weigh their votes, which could send the proposal to the entire city council on Wednesday, the 50-member Chicago city council have until Friday to answer 10 questions posed by federal officials seeking whether the Alderman prerogative created a segregated hyper-city plagued by racism and gentrification.
A letter to aldermen of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development dated December 1 is the first public acknowledgment that federal officials are pursuing a civil rights complaint filed in November 2018 against the city by the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance, a coalition of groups that have urged city officials to take action to desegregate the city and provide more affordable housing.
The letter was first reported by the Chicago Tribune.
Patricia Fron, co-executive director of the alliance, said she hoped public recognition of the federal inquiry would encourage city council members to approve the apartment complex at 8535 W. Higgins Road in the middle of a group of medium-sized hotels and offices. along the Kennedy Highway and a short walk from the CTA Blue Line.
This vote would come despite Ald’s vehement objections. Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward), who opposed the development and urged his colleagues to respect the Alderman prerogative and to rely on him and the opinions of the owners of Edison Park and Norwood Park in the far north -western Chicago, where over 80% of residents are white.
Napolitano said the Higgins Corridor, on the Chicago-Park Ridge border, should remain focused on attracting businesses rather than residents. Additionally, Napolitano, the only Chicago city council member, called the complex too dense for the Far Northwest Side.
“Chicago’s political culture must change,” said Fron, adding that federal action may be needed to lift the pressure aldermen feel to defer to their colleagues and follow the largely unwritten prerogative practice. aldermen.
In 2017, the zoning committee rejected a similar proposal from developer Glenstar and maintained the Alderman prerogative.
Michael Klein, co-founder of Glenstar, told WTTW News he is optimistic that the vote scheduled for Tuesday will have a different outcome.
“We have a lot of hope,” Klein said.
The proposal is presented to the zoning committee with the support of key officials in Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration – and possibly Lightfoot herself, who campaigned for mayor in 2019 by promising to end the prerogative. Alderman and build more affordable housing for the struggling middle and working class of Chicago.
Housing Department commissioner Marisa Novara made it clear to the Planning Commission in August that if they left it up to Napolitano, they would maintain the system that made Chicago one of the most segregated cities in the states. -United.
Because the Glenstar development needs special permission to build apartments on land where current rules only require office space to be built, it must reserve at least 30 units, or 10% of the total number of apartments. , for low and moderate income Chicagoans. .
Instead, development will set aside 59 units, double the requirement, and officials will forgo the option of paying a fee instead of building the units or building them elsewhere. The rest of the units will be priced at $ 1,600 per month for a studio and $ 2,000 per month for a one-bedroom, officials said.
Studios set aside as affordable would rent for as little as $ 653, according to the developer.
Chances of approval for development are likely slim unless the mayor backs it with full and public support as a matter of economic justice and racial equity.
Alderman prerogative fight
More than two years after Lightfoot took office, the progress of his central campaign promising to eliminate the Alderman prerogative has only progressed in spurts, pushed to the background by one crisis after another and the pandemic. of COVID-19.
Even after Lightfoot quashed the aldermen’s ability to block – or green light – licenses and permits in their neighborhoods, a majority in Chicago’s city council repeatedly rejected Lightfoot’s attempts to give chiefs more authority. department and commissioners.
Lightfoot has made no attempt to propose changes to the city’s zoning code, where the heart of alderman power is located – and it lacks a clear path to convincing aldermen to reduce their power.
The federal inquiry could serve as a reminder to aldermen of what is at stake with votes like the one at stake on Tuesday, Fron said.
“We tried to remind the aldermen that an investigation was underway,” Fron said, adding that she hoped the letter from federal investigators would prompt the aldermen to reconsider their approach to the aldermen prerogative and affordable lifting.
Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]