For an explanation of my support for affordable housing I will use three examples.
(1) On April 17, the City Council voted 8-3 to sell the development rights to the Fifth Avenue property to Chicago-based developer Core Spaces for $10 million. I voted against that sale, in part, because the developer was allowed to calculate the site size and required affordable housing required in a manner that reduced the number of affordable units. I believe we must require developers fo include either affordable housing units or pay into our housing fund when developing large projects. This is especially true when the developer is buying or using City-owned property.
(2) On Dec. 4, 2017, the City Council approved the $146 million development project, which includes more than 600 housing units -- apartments and condos in three buildings -- and ground-floor retail space at Broadway and Maiden Lane. I voted against this project because it included the rezoning of the site from planned unit development (PUD) to C-1A/R. The zoning change meant that the developer was not required to include the 96 units of affordable housing that a PUD development would be required to have. The Mayor and his allies allowed the more permissive zoning knowing that it would remove the requirement for affordable housing. We lost the opportunity to have 96 units of affordable housing at no cost to the City when the Council majority voted to change the zoning on this property.
(3) On Tuesday, May 1, Council held a special session to consider the fate of the Y Lot (350 S. Fifth Avenue). One of the resolutions on the agenda expressed the Council’s intention should it obtain ownership of the property. The resolution claimed to express support for affordable housing. Because the resolution was soft on details and not demanding on results, I offered 4 amendments.
- My first proposed amendment would have changed the language of the resolution to provide that workforce housing will have rent with a maximum of 90% fair market rates rather than the original language of 150%. I proposed this amendment so that the “affordable” units would be affordable to those who do not receive section 8 housing subsidies. Workforce housing should be affordable to workers who have a modest income but do not qualify for subsidies. My amendment was not adopted, but Council did vote to reduce the cost of the affordable units to 110% of fair market rent.
- My second proposed amendment would have changed the resolution to provide that the developer will provide at least 50 units of single room occupancy housing at rent affordable to people with income of no more than 40% of AMI. I believe that this form of housing is important and because the demolition of the Y removed SRO units, we should support replacing them. While the federal government does not subsidize this kind of housing, I believe a project that is controlled by the City should be able to provide these units. This proposal did not receive majority support.
- My third proposed amendment would have increased the period in which the City tried to accomplish these affordable housing goals to allow 60 months rather than 48 months. Our experience with the Library Lot and the Y Lot demonstrate that 48 months is not enough time.
- My fourth proposed amendment added a new resolved clause to express the intention of using funds from the sale of the library lot for affordable housing and to retire any debt incurred from buying the Y lot. This intention had been discussed, previously, but was not expressly included in the resolution. This amendment was adopted.
I do care very much about the lack of housing for the truly poor in our community. My concern, however, does not end there. I also care about the ability of the working poor who do not qualify for housing subsidies to afford housing. Housing values have increased so dramatically, that housing is also becoming unaffordable for workers with relatively decent incomes. Additionally, residents who have worked an entire career and are living on a fixed income in their retirement find it difficult to afford the property taxes and fees associated with home ownership. Affordability strategies must address the many aspects that affect our resident.
It has been the practice of the City to focus on the most needy when prioritizing our housing efforts. That is a reasonable response because those are our residents with the greatest need. As we develop plans to better address affordability we must expand the scope of our efforts to include other affordability concerns. That should never reduce the emphasis on the most in need.