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New Chicago Housing Plan Downplaying Affordability?

New housing plan could be out of reach for Chicago residents.

While the proportion of Chicago residents challenged by housing costs has surged in the past decade — half of all renters and homeowners are now officially “housing cost-burdened” — the city has apparently dropped the word “affordable” from its next five-year housing plan.

This odd and unexplained omission was widely commented on at a recent gathering of South Side housing activists, called by the Chicago Rehab Network to foster discussion and generate interest in the city plan.

“I am concerned about them taking the word ‘affordable’ out as if it were something to be ashamed of,” said Mattie Butler of Woodlawn East Community and Neighbors.

“Affordability is not just for people with subsidies,” she added — particularly since the city continues to measure affordability by the regional median income of $75,000 (as of 2010); the median income in the city is under $47,000.

A Newstip on CHA demolitions last year pointed out that the large bulk of the city’s “affordable housing” production is targeted well above the lower reaches of the income range –indeed, much of it above the city’s median income.)

“The city has dropped the word ‘affordable,’ but we have to make sure that affordability continues to be the focus of the plan,” said Janet Smith of UIC’s Voorhees Center.

She presented an overview of housing issues in Chicago as “a tale of two cities,” with thousands of high-end rental units under construction around the Loop while neighborhoods continue to be ravaged by the foreclosure crisis — and housing becomes less and less affordable.

Between 2000 and 2010, the proportion of renters paying over a third of their income for housing — the federal standard for “cost-burdened” — rose by 32.5 percent, and the proportion of homeowners who are cost-burdened rose by an astonishing 78 percent, she said. (See CRN’s new City of Chicago Housing Fact Sheet.)

According to Smith, 50.2 percent of tenants and 49.5 percent of homeowners were cost-burdened in 2010, up from 37.9 and 27.8 percent, respectively, ten years before.

The loss of 200,000 residents in the past decade — mainly families, and 90 percent of them African-American — should serve as a wake-up call, she said.

In recent decades, the city has “settled into patterns of segregation,” and concentration of poverty has increased, she said.

Among those who spoke out at the CRN gathering were community leaders from South Chicago, Chicago Lawn, Bronzeville, Woodlawn, Englewood, and Chatham.

Among the issues they raised:

Tax increment financing: An effort several years ago to dedicate a portion of TIF funds to affordable housing was scuttled by then-Mayor Daley. Acitivists called for greater transparency — and for deploying TIF financing to create jobs and affordable housing in the communities where taxpayers live.

Demolitions: “We do not need any more demolitions,” said a Woodlawn resident, and many indicated agreement — and opposition to the city’s practice of marking vacant buildings with red Xs.

USX site: Community groups are pushing for a community benefits agreement with developers who want to build on the huge lakefront site.

CHA: The new CHA plan eliminates promises made to residents who were displaced under the first plan, one public housing resident said. “Families thought the Plan For Transformation would mean more resources for them,” she said, “but many of them ended up homeless.”

A spokesperson for the city’s Department of Housing and Economic Development hasn’t responded to a request for clarification regarding the title of the plan.

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