Mayoral task force issues first report, urges further inclusionary housing

by Will Mendelson

Mayoral task force issues first report, urges further inclusionary housing

Chicago Department of Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara and Mayor Lori Lightfoot announce a new housing initiative.

Chicago’s Inclusionary Housing task force issued its first report Monday, recommending the city’s affordable housing ordinance be revised to encourage construction of additional units that would both combat displacement of Latino families and reduce the loss of the Black population in gentrifying areas. Appointed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot in 2019, members called for policy changes to create more family-sized units. 

“All Chicagoans, regardless of their circumstances, deserve equal access to live and lead happy, fulfilled lives in whichever neighborhood they choose,” said Mayor Lightfoot. “This report is a critical first step to making this vision a reality and continues our efforts to create a more equitable Chicago. I look forward to working with the Department of Housing and other key stakeholders as we begin to roll out the Inclusionary Housing Task Force’s recommendations.”

The report suggested that the city liberalize rules that permit developers to either fund or build more affordable units if they get zoning authority to expand their projects’ sizes. Additionally, the report said that builders should be able to utilize a “bonus” system even if a zoning change is not required.

The report makes several recommendations, including: 

  • Increasing the proportion of required affordable units that must be built, rather than paid for with an “in-lieu” fee; 
  • Building more deeply affordable and family-sized units; 
  • Offering more flexibility for off-site units, including through partnerships with affordable developers; 
  • Strengthening accessibility requirements; 
  • Exploring a centralized leasing and marketing system; 
  • Creating additional incentives for market-rate developers; and 
  • Creating a sustainable, dedicated source of funding for affordable housing. 

Still, Marisa Novara, the city’s housing commissioner, clarified that these are just guidelines.  “It is preliminary,” she said. “Nothing is nailed down that is or is not endorsed by the mayor.” However, she did note that the city hopes to draft a revised ordinance later this year, ideally in winter. The City Council’s housing committee is scheduled to discuss the recommendations and matter on Sept. 23.

The Affordable Requirements Ordinance, or ARO, has existed since 2004 and funded construction of approximately 1,500 units for households with low or moderate incomes, according to the report. 

Novara said the city’s overall programs for housing has a broad reach, though the city currently falls short of available affordable construction. The Low Income Housing Trust Fund provides rent subsidies for more than 2,700 low-income households, according to the report. It also mentioned that tax credits produce more than 1,000 units per year on average. However, Novara admitted that the ARO “is not designed to do everything.”

Units that are subsidized and built under the ARO must be affordable to households that earn 60% or less than the area’s median income. While some members of the force said the income limit should be lowered, the report also included objections from developers who said such an action could make a few residential projects too great of a financial risk.

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