CN Sep 28 2017

There’s a traditionally-accepted standard that nobody should pay more than 30% of their salary for housing. But more than half of people who rent their housing in Chicago pay more than that.

The number of such “cost-burdened” Chicagoans has risen by seventy-eight percent since 2000.

The number of Chicagoans earning $75,000 plus has risen by more than 100,000 in the same time period.

The population of the “Super-Loop,” the downtown-plus West Loop, River North, South Loop,etc, has grown to 229,000. A few years back, planners estimated – optimistically – that the Super-Loop would expand to about 200,000 — by 2020. The number is escalating wildly.

At the same time, Chicago lost 200,000 people. According to Kevin Jackson, our guest this week, “90% of that was African American. A huge part of that was those families who made $75,000 or more.”

So Chicago, like so many other places, is experiencing a hollowing-out of the middle.

These are just a few of the stark realities identified by Jackson’s Chicago Rehab Network in their latest, just-released report.
That report is timed in synchronicity with the City Council’s most recent attempt to craft an  ordinance that will provide, or encourage, more “affordable” units in Chicago.

But what’s “affordable?”  How do you define it? And can a city like Chicago, which is experiencing dramatic waves of gentrification in certain sectors, balance affordable housing with gentrification? Does the city have an obligation to discourage, or even halt, gentrification?

These issues have deeply divided some aldermen who have to deal with the effects of these forces every day.

Jackson tells us that there’s a sense of urgency among the aldermen whose wards intersect with the hottest zones right now. But there’s significant disagreement about how to proceed. A few weeks ago, there was a push to demand extremely high fees from developers who proposed tearing down single-family homes or small apartment buildings along the 606. But when an ordinance finally passed the Housing Committee on Monday, those provisions hadn’t even been considered. This led to some emotional confrontations between the aldermen who sponsored a more moderate approach  and the aldermen who demanded a stronger response to gentrification but weren’t even consulted as the replacement ordinance was drafted. The City has proposed two pilot programs covering the most rapidly-gentrifying regions that would force developers to build more affordable units – if not in their own buildings then within two miles of them.

“The leadership of the City, of advocates and community organizations recognized that this development pattern is at a pace, hyper inflated was the term, that we are going to see incredible displacement if we don’t do more,” Jackson says. “And so the pilots were an effort to say how can we get more done for affordable housing and capture that growth? That’s the whole concept of this Affordable Requirements Ordinance about how do you include and get a development agenda that has some equity to it, a development agenda for the City that has inclusive strategies recognizing the disparity of incomes and places in the City. How do you do a development plan that works?”

Areas such as the 606 in Humboldt Park and along sections of North Milwaukee Avenue are clearly white-hot real-estate markets, and nearby residents – especially renters – are freaking out about housing they’ve lived in affordably for years suddenly vanishing.

“Latino communities’ folks talk about the constant displacement of these neighborhoods, and the issue that we recognize is with that type of real estate activity people get hurt.,” Jackson tells us. “And that’s what we want to do is how do you get a situation where people have an opportunity, particularly people that we hear across the City talk about having lived in these neighborhoods for so long and they lived there when they were tough and they helped keep it stable. And they were in the voices and the ears. They don’t want to be the ones that have to leave, because now there’s an investment interest in it. That’s our challenge.”

And that brings us to another stunning statistic revealed by the CRN’s report. “The rents in Chicago since the 80s have increased 95%,” Jackson laments, “And the incomes at the same time have only increased 15%.”

So, vast numbers of Chicagoans are suffering from the economic stagnation that’s victimized lower-income people all across the country.

“I can say definitively,” Jackson asserts, “that there’s over a million jobs today that are actual people working in Cook County that do not have enough wages to them to afford what’s called the affordable rent. In the Cook County area…the affordable rent, the wage to afford the average cost two-bedroom in Cook County today is $21 an hour and some cents. There’s a million jobs that pay less than that $21, and so if we’re going to have an organization of a city, if we’re going to have an economy that allows for opportunity for people to actually succeed we have to start with that.”

Whether the pilot zones the City proposes will reverse years of declining relative income for Chicago’s working poor remains to be seen. But it’s sure to be a contentious issue when the full council takes up this ordinance on Oct. 11, and we’ll be there to cover it.

You can read a full CN transcript Sep 28 2017

And you can listen to the audio in your earbuds here.



About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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