Burnett deal may be a ‘sweet’ one for affordable housing

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With so many families scrambling to find affordable housing, West Side Alderman Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said he had to do something to help those in need.

With so many families scrambling to find affordable housing, West Side Alderman Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said he had to do something to help those in need.

Two years after first introducing an ordinance to build more affordable housing in the city, Burnett said he is confident he can finally get the proposal passed by the City Council this year.

“By creating more affordable housing people will not be living somewhere they cannot afford but somewhere that is reasonable,” added Burnett.

The proposed ordinance, Sweet Home Chicago, was named after a Chicago housing group, and the ordinance would take Tax Incrementing Financing money to build more affordable housing in Chicago. Under the proposed ordinance, 20 percent of TIF dollars collected would be used for the purpose of developing affordable housing, which includes acquiring rental and for-sale, foreclosed properties. Properties would be sold at an affordable rate, Burnett said.

Burnett estimates the ordinance would generate $100 million annually to create more affordable housing.

Affordable housing is housing that “is available at a reduced cost for households with incomes at or below specific levels.  Generally, where affordable housing exists, residents don’t pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing costs,” said Susan Massel, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development.

The ordinance is co-sponsored by fellow Black Aldermen Emma Mitts (37th), Pat Dowell (3rd) and Toni Foulkes (15th).

Aldermen Anthony Beale (9th) and Carrie Austin (34th) were the only two Black aldermen who initially voted against the ordinance but now say they plan to support it.

“As it stands now this ordinance mandates TIF money to create a percentage of affordable housing. If that portion could be changed to a goal from a mandate I would gladly support it because I am all for affordable housing,” Beale told the Defender.

So rather than risk losing the opportunity to increase affordable housing in blighted areas Burnett said he is now proposing to change the mandate to 10 percent rather than 20 percent and make the other 10 percent a goal. The his ward has five TIF districts and Burnett credits them with improving housing conditions on the West Side.

“I expect the City Council to vote again on this proposal and this time I expect it to pass,” said Burnett.

Affordable housing advocates are concerned that if the ordinance fails it would have a ripple effect on the housing industry.

“If this ordinance does not become law then we lose the opportunity to improve affordable housing,” said Ed Shurna, executive director for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

The Sweet Home Chicago Coalition, a Chicago affordable housing group composed of 12 organizations, had previously picketed the ward offices of Beale and Austin for voting against the proposal initially.

Austin, who chairs the City Council’s Budget Committee, said with changes made she can easily support it.

“I can support it with those changes,” she said. “I am for affordable housing but not at the expense of making my ward a low-income ward. The 34th Ward is a middle-income area and that is how my constituents want it to stay.”

The 34th Ward covers the West Pullman community on the Far South Side.

According to Austin, 98 percent of the housing in her ward is single-family homes and she currently has one TIF, which was created last year with the opening of the 440,000-square-foot Marshfield Plaza development at 119th Street and Marshfield Avenue. The retail development was built with $26.6 million in TIF money and is anchored by Minnesota-based retailer Target.

In December the city’s Department of Housing and Economic Development, reported that it was on target to complete its Five-Year Affordable Housing Plan by 2013.

Through the third quarter of 2010, which ended Sept. 30, the city committed over $276 million in resources to support over 5,000 units of affordable rental housing and $26 million to help 519 households achieve or sustain homeownership, according to Molly Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the HED.

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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