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SE Side wants to benefit from USX development

With nearly $100 million in TIF funds being spent on the first phase of a massive development on the south lakefront, a community summit on Saturday will discuss strategies to win a community benefits agreement for the project.

The Coalition for a Lakeside CBA meets Saturday, September 7, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 3200 E. 91st.

Jennifer Epps-Addison of the Partnership for Working Families will discuss how community benefits agreements (CBAs) across the country have won opportunities for local workers and communities, and Tom Tresser of CivicLab will present an analysis of all TIFs in three local wards.

The Coalition will also release results of a new survey of Southeast Side residents.

Site developer McCaffrey Interests has been granted $96 million in TIF support from the city for the first phase of a vast new redevelopment of the former site of US Steel’s South Works (USX) plant, dubbed Chicago Lakeside.  Ultimately McCaffrey plans over 13,000 units of housing, 17.5 million square feet of retail, 125 acres of parks and a 1,500-slip marina.

The TIF subsidy will cover one-fourth of development costs for the first phase of the project, which will include 1 million square feet of retail and restaurants and 848 units of housing.  The first phase is planned for the northwest corner of the 530-acre site, which runs south from 79th Street along the lakefront to the Calumet River.

Concerns about displacement

A major concern is that development could cause displacement in the adjoining area, as it has in other communities, with property tax increases as home values rise forcing longtime residents to leave, said Amelia NietoGomez of the Alliance of the South East, an organizer of the coalition.

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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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Stimulus for Lathrop?

Kevin Jackson of the Chicago Rehab Network suggests that public housing capital improvement funds coming to the CHA from the stimulus bill be spent fixing up Lathrop Homes, according to Chitown Daily News.  Lathrop residents have called on CHA to lease vacant apartments (see last year’s Newstip).

‘Housing is infrastructure’

With the still-growing housing crisis at the core of the sharpest economic downturn since the Great Depression, advocates called for affordable housing to be a key component of stimulus and recovery plans.

“Housing is infrastructure,” said Jack Markowski of the Community Investment Corporation, alluding to massive infrastructure investments planned in the forthcoming stimulus program. “It employs people. It provides the foundation to allow people to be part of the workforce.” And with a growing need for energy conservation, “it’s part of the green economy.

“We have proposals that are shovel-ready,” he added, speaking at a gathering of over 200 community housing practitioners convened by the Chicago Rehab Network at Roosevelt University yesterday.

Markowski called for tripling expenditures for the federal HOME Investment Partnership Program, which finances affordable housing production — at $2 billion a year, its budget has not been increased since 1990, he said — as well as for the $4 billion Community Development Block Grant Program.

U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky described efforts by congressional leadership to include $23 billion for affordable housing development in the stimulus package, including $10 billion for the National Housing Trust Fund to build or save 100,000 low-income rental homes over two years, as well as funds for more low-income rental subsidies, upgrading public housing units to green standards, and helping cities redevelop foreclosed properties.

Together the proposed spending would assist 800,000 hard-hit households and create 200,000 new jobs, she said.

Schakowsky also discussed efforts to require any further spending under the TARP financial bailout program to include at least $40 billion for foreclosure mitigation.

Participants in two panels expressed high hopes for the incoming Obama administration. “We need a HUD that wants to do housing,” said Andrew Geer of Heartland Housing.

Community Media Workshop president Thom Clark moderated the panel discussions.

Joy Aruguete of Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation emphasized the connection between affordable housing and a green jobs program, and Ted Wysocki of the LEED Council stressed the need for immediate training for green jobs.

Housing consultant Teresa Prim discussed the economic recovery plan proposed by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Steven McCullough of Bethel New Life called for “holding financial institutions accountable and making sure capital is flowing to the people who really need it…. We’re at the point where a large number of multifamily buildings are in trouble because of [lack of] capital flow.”

McCullough said the worker sit-in at Republic Windows last month could be replicated in multifamily rental buildings, with families refusing to move when buildings go into foreclosure.

“In Chicago we’ve seen overinvestment in high-end housing causing displacement, and in Washington we’ve seen that a top-down housing policy allows the bottom to fall out,” said Pat Abrams of The Renaissance Collaborative. “But we who work at the community level have an alternative to the top-down approach.

“Affordable housing is a community anchor,” Abrams said. “We must ensure that affordable housing, and especially rental housing, is the centerpiece of any economy recovery.”

Foreclosures and subsidized tenants

Low-income tenants with Section 8 rental subsidies are increasingly facing eviction from properties going into foreclosure — often with no warning, and with fewer protections than other renters have.

Often they’ve been paying rent throughout the foreclosure process, with no knowledge that their tenancy was threatened, said Andrea Button of the Legal Assistance Foundation.

“In many cases they don’t know anything until a foreclosure notice is posted on the door, or they just get eviction papers,” she said. “In some cases the landlords have just skipped town.”

A new state law gives tenants up to 120 days from the time they receive notice of foreclosure (less if their lease expires earlier) before they have to vacate a foreclosed property. But they have to continue paying rent.

The problem is that Section 8 renters’ subsidies are provided through a contract with the building owner. When a bank or mortgage company takes possession, the subsidy ends, and the new owner has a right to demand market rent. “And there’s no way (tenants) can afford that,” Button said.

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MacArthur Honors Creative Nonprofits

Two Chicago groups are among nine from around the world being honored by the MacArthur Foundation’s first annual Awards for Creative and Effective Organizations.

The Chicago Rehab Network and the North Lawndale Employment Network are being recognized as “highly creative and effective organizations that have demonstrated significant impact in their field,” with large cash awards from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Other awardees include groups in Nigeria, Mexico, Russia, Peru, and India. An awards ceremony will be held in Chicago on October 8.

The new award parallels the well-known MacArthur Fellowship Program, which recognizes individual creativity with large unrestricted grants.

“These awards recognize nine extraordinary organizations and, we hope, allow them to unleash their imagination and inspiration on a larger scale,” said MacArthur president Jonathan Fanton.

The groups, all with annual budgets under $2.5 million, will receive awards ranging from $250,000 to $500,000.

Chicago Rehab Network, now over 25 years old, is a coalition of neighborhood-based development groups in over 60 communities and “the leading voice for affordable housing in Chicagoland,” according to the foundation’s announcement. The group offers training programs for affordable housing developers and monitors the expiration fo federal housing assistance contracts to help tenants and advocates develop strategies to preserve affordable housing.

North Lawndale Employment Network, founded in 1999, works in a community where the poverty rate is three times as high as the city as a whole, and where it’s estimated that over half of adults have spent time in prison. Each year the Network places hundreds of residents – mainly ex-offenders – in jobs. NLEN’s urban bee-keeping program trains residents in retail sales and business development and management, and has launched its own product line, Beeline Honey.

Preserving Affordable Housing – South Side, West Side

As private and nonprofit developers on Chicago’s West Side undertake the largest rescue of troubled subsidized housing in the nation’s history, other community organizers are meeting to develop proactive strategies for low-income housing with subsidies nearing expiration.

[About 300 community activists – half of them tenants in buildings facing loss of their subsidies – attended the Chicago Rehab Network’s South Side Affordable Housing Summit on June 3 at King High School.]

Nearly three fourths of the 12,400 low-income units covered by rental subsidy contracts and mortgate assistance on the South Side could be lost in the next three years, said Leah Levinger of CRN.

The summit will focus on preservation tools including new state legislation which requires tenant notification when owners decide to end subsidies and gives tenant associations first option to purchase the property.

Logan Square Neighborhood Association organizers will discuss their recent victory using the law to save 54 units of project-based Section 8 housing.

In Woodlawn, the Student Tenant Organizing Project has blocked owners who sought to scare tenants into moving — counting on their ignorance of possible legal recourses — so they could convert subsidized buildings to condos “illegally,” said Della Moran. Tenants in several buildings there are now organizing so they can act to save affordability when contracts do expire.

Meanwhile the West Side’s Lawndale Restoration, the largest project-based Section 8 complex in the city, is being salvaged by a diverse group of developers, ranging from major nonprofits to local mom-and-pop landlords.

In late 2004 city inspectors found 1800 code violations in 100 buildings (with over a thousand Section 8 units) operated by Lawndale Restoration, after a car crash caused a partial cave-in at one building. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development began foreclosure proceedings against Lawndale Restoration, planning to “voucher out” tenants by shifting subsidies from the housing units themselves to vouchers carried by tenants.

Housing advocates consider project-based subsidies to be more stable and note that many voucher holders end up in poor housing in segregated neighborhoods.

Lawndale tenants organized by ACORN and represented by the Shriver Center on Poverty Law sued HUD, demanding that project-based subsidies be maintained. ACORN also brought tenants to meet with top HUD officials in Washington.

“Tenants fought tooth and nail for long-term subsidies,” said Marty Shaloo of ACORN Housing.

They were helped when Congress passed the Shumer Amendment to last year’s HUD appropriation, requiring the agency to show that housing would be available for tenants vouchered out of Section 8 buildings.

Then the city stepped in, working with the Community Investment Corp., a nonprofit that helps independent landlords provide affordable housing, to assemble 23 developers and transfer title to them.

Developers agreed to keep housing affordable and are eligible for up to $40,000 per unit in HUD rehab grants. All the units will keep their project-based subsidies for two years, and 400 units will get 20-year Section 8 contracts. ACORN is co-developing about 250 of those units.

Tenants wanted more units covered by long-term contracts, but getting as many as they did was “a huge victory” given HUD’s policy of shifting subsidies from projects to vouchers, said Shaloo.

At this point many Lawndale tenants are taking a wait-and-see attitude, said Kaitlyn Johnson of ACORN, which has organized tenants throughout the developments.

“They’ve been screwed around so long they don’t know what to believe,” said developer Sel Dunlop. Dunlap is redeveloping an 8-unit building and is one of a number of Lawndale developers meeting together to coordinate efforts.

“The conditions are very bleak and they’ve been that way for years,” said Richard Townsell of Lawndale Christian Development Corp. LCDC is taking on 79 units in 13 buildings with plans to help some tenants purchase their homes.

Developers have been meeting with tenants, and one has organized a bus tour of her current properties. “We put a face on the company they’re dealing with and let them know how the buildings we own are maintained,” said Johnnie Heron, who is acquiring 69 units in three buildings.

“The idea is to provide a quality of housing residents have never enjoyed before,” said Dunlop, who hopes for a “spillover effect” improving the “culture of our community.”

They’ll also bring stability to a neighborhood increasingly beset by real estate speculation by providing a place for longtime low-income residents to remain — the goal of housing advocates across the city.



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