For weeks, I have wanted to write an entry about the candidates in Chicago’s upcoming mayoral election and their stance on affordable housing. The problem is, there is no information (at least that I have been able to find) about this issue.
I know Alderman Bob Fioretti and Mayor Emanuel both supported recent bills improving (or trying to improve) the quality of life for those in low-income housing situations, such as the SRO Preservation Ordinance and the proposed amendments to the Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO). Fioretti is also a sponsor of the so-called Keeping the Promise Ordinance, which calls for reforming the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and expanding the distribution of subsidized housing vouchers. I applaud Fioretti and Emanuel for their political commitment to help those who cannot afford market-rate housing (more than 50 percent of Chicago renting households). A substantial discussion of affordable housing among all candidates, however, is absent this election season.
Topics such as public safety, education, jobs, government oversight, the city budget, and red light cameras have taken the spotlight. This is not to say I find any of these less than worthy of consideration -they are all integral components of a sustainable city. Still, public safety is impacted when people cannot afford housing, and it is nearly impossible to hold a job or achieve academically without a home. Adequate and affordable housing, as I argue often, is the foundation of a healthy community.
Questionnaires distributed to candidates by the Chicago Tribune and Better Government Association (BGA) include no reference to housing. Chicago’s public radio station WBEZ and nonpartisan website Pollenize both published ‘big issues’ breakdowns by candidate; neither includes housing as a heading (although Pollenize notes that former candidate Amara Enyia “would preserve current levels of affordable housing and increase accountability on landlords to provide quality housing”).
After scouring the media endlessly for any hint of affordable housing discussion, I was elated to hear about the forum hosted by the Chicago Housing Initiative Coalition on Tuesday, February 17. I had to work, unfortunately, but I did find a good recap here, written by Progress Illinois.
Only three of the five candidates (Fioretti, community activist William “Dock” Walls and entrepreneur Willie Wilson) were in attendance. The other candidates, Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Mayor Emanuel did not show up to the event. Whether this was because they did not want to share their views on affordable housing or due to other obligations was not explained. Garcia does not list affordable housing as a key issue on his website, but there are scattered vague references to his commitment to affordable housing in various write-ups on his platform.
Forum questions focused on CHA oversight, the proposed amendments to the ARO and the just-passed SRO ordinance.
Because I was not able to go to the event, and the only good report I can find is in the above-linked article, I do not feel qualified to give an informed summary of the proceedings. Instead, I will provide my interpretations of the candidates, based on the positions reported by Progress Illinois.
Fioretti and Walls seem the most sympathetic to affordable housing. Fioretti calls for a “responsive”, proactive and accountable CHA board; expanded efforts to creating more housing by utilizing existing resources (such as vacant buildings) throughout the city; and a plan for allocating resources to fund the SRO ordinance. Walls would like to see a CHA board comprised of current and former public housing residents to create accountability and agency among tenants; he also wants to improve homeless prevention programs and accelerate the provision of subsidized housing vouchers to those with the largest housing hardships; and, like Fioretti, he supports a plan to fund the SRO ordinance. Wilson offered no concrete solutions or suggestions to improve affordable housing in Chicago, choosing (as always) to push his ‘economic improvememt’ agenda. He believes in home-ownership and business development provide the only the only route to community success.
No matter which candidate you believe best, please remember to VOTE! Polling stations will be open Tuesday, February 24 from 6am – 7pm. If you don’t know your polling place, the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners has a handy look-up tool, as well as other relevant voting information.