Do the proposed amendments to Chicago’s affordable housing ordinance go far enough?

On Wednesday, Mayor Emanuel submitted a proposed amendment of the Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO) to the Chicago City Council. Read more about the ordinance and the suggested changes here. I am proud of the mayor for realizing that the 247 units created under the ordinance since 2007 is inadequate when compared to the city’s housing needs. But I am also frustrated because the new ARO, which will create 1,200 new units in five years if development adheres to predicted rates, will not come close to closing the housing gap.

The North Side neighborhoods alone have seen the elimination of an estimated 2,500 affordable units since 2011. More than 6,000 people are homeless. The Chicago Housing Authority received over 282,000 applicants when it opened its public housing and voucher waiting list in November. Chicago’s non-wealthy residents are in need. Their rights have been neglected. The new ARO is good, but falls far short of being enough.

Where, in the years before 1,200 new affordable units appear in Chicago, will the city house the tens of thousands of people who are without housing, live in substandard conditions or cannot afford their current residences? What will the city do for the hundreds more who are forced onto the streets in the intervening time due to foreclosures, health crises, and unemployment? Will these individuals be allowed to make encampments on our sidewalks and in our parks? Will they be forced to overrun shelters and overstay their welcome on the couches of friends? Will they be able to stay in the communities they call home?

The government needs to create shelters now. It needs a plan to house the thousands whose numbers will exceed the 1,200 potential ARO units. It needs to take a serious and monumental stand against homelessness. The current solution is nice, but it is boring, uninspiring, conventional. It will not create significant or sustainable changes in the affordable housing market. Developers will learn to avoid projects that trigger the new ARO; those that do seek zoning and density changes will build only the minimum required affordable units and will target households at the maximum allowed income thresholds. Low and very-low income families will continue to live on the margins.



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