Tensions and frustrations are running high in the Woodlawn neighborhood as residents feel the effects of the incoming Obama Presidential Center.
During a meeting on housing plans this week, the city presented what it calls a preliminary phase one proposal that would designate 13 city lots for the creation of deeply affordable housing. That means 15% of a building created on the lots must be set aside for households earning between 30% and 50% of the area’s median income, and another 15% must be reserved for households earning at, or below, 30%.
The area’s median income is calculated for the entire Chicago area. As a result, 30%-50% AMI for a family of four ranges between $27,950 to $46,600. The median income in Woodlawn is $24,450, according to data.
The restrictions are part of the Woodlawn Housing Preservation Ordinance that was put in place in 2020 to help protect residents from displacement and create new affordable rental and housing opportunities.
The Department of Housing shared a proposal with the Woodlawn Working Group Tuesday, which it stresses is only preliminary and the first step in an ongoing process to fulfill its promise of designating a total of 52 lots for very low-income housing, but residents say they want to see more action now.
“The mayor needs to be accountable for the original agreement and setting aside only 13 lots is not enough,” said Patricia Tatum, a Woodlawn resident and member of the Obama Community Benefits Agreement Coalition, which pushed for the ordinance. “The original ordinance called for 52 lots, which is only one-quarter of the city owned lots in Woodland. Thirteen isn’t enough. We need all of those lots along city 63rd Street close to where the Obama center is going to be located to be for affordable housing.”
Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward), whose ward includes Woodlawn, says residents are already feeling the effects of rising rental and housing costs.
“We have to protect people who have weathered the storm and who want to live here. It is not fair that we’re not gonna get the investment,” Taylor said. “This community has been waiting for 20 or 30 years and now the very people that we’re supposed to protect are now being displaced, it’s not fair and it’s not anything that I’m going to support or stand for.”
Taylor says every day she’s helping families find places to relocate and live because landlords are pushing them out by either raising rental costs or not taking care of properties.
“That’s not fair to my constituents,” said Taylor. “I’m paid to represent all the folks in the community and the majority of the people who live here want to be able to stay regardless of what they make, and so shame on the city for not giving up those 52 lots. Let’s have a real conversation about them and there is a pushback in the community because there’s a small percentage of people who live here who think that low-income housing or affordable housing comes with violence, which is just not true. It doesn’t make sense and it's not right, just say you hate poor people.”
The city uses low-income housing tax credits awarded by the federal government to fund affordable housing. Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara explained that process during Tuesday’s working group meeting.
“When we talk about the commitment in the ordinance that a minimum of 10 highest density lots will have the 30-50% AMI, and that 52 lots are reserved for that, it’s important to understand that we get that level of affordability only when we’re doing rental housing and we get that level of affordability when we are subsidizing the development, and our main way of subsidizing the development is through low-income housing tax credits,” Novara said. “We are awarded tax credits directly from the federal government, and we do a funding round every two years.”
Members of the Community Benefits Agreement Coalition, however, believe the city should be creative when it comes to funding affordable housing, and not just rely on low-income housing tax credits.
“Right now, we’ve got University of Chicago students standing with us who are demanding that the University of Chicago be involved in this,” said Tatum. “University of Chicago could help by funding housing. They’re going to profit from the center and they have long played a hand in displacement on the South Side of Chicago, so they should be part of building back up and helping people to stay here who want to stay here.”
Taylor agrees with finding other methods of funding, including pulling money from the Chicago Housing Authority, and says the state should be funding developments in Woodlawn as well.
Last summer, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation to create a state-run COVID-19 affordable housing program using $75 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan.