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New city housing plan downplaying affordability?

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.)

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