The Chicago City Council on Wednesday approved a controversial deal in a 37-11 vote that would turn over some 26 acres of Chicago Housing Authority land to the Chicago Fire Football Club.
The measure faced an uncertain future after it failed to pass the City Council’s Zoning Committee on Tuesday. But committee chair Ald. Tom Tunney (44th Ward) recessed that meeting and brought members back for a brief Wednesday morning session, where it passed despite opponents’ objections.
The Fire’s plan is set to transform the vacant Near West Side property into practice soccer fields and a training and administrative building. The empty land was part of the massive CHA complex known as the Addams-Brooks-Loomis-Abbott homes. Many of those properties were demolished two decades ago as part of the CHA’s “Plan For Transformation,” but the public housing agency has fallen far short of its promises to rebuild.
At a Tuesday meeting of the Council’s Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards, the deal failed on a 7-5 vote. Several alderpeople raised objections to allowing a private sports team, which is owned by billionaire Joe Mansueto, to create a soccer facility on land meant for needy residents.
As ProPublica and WTTW News reported in June, the CHA and developer Related Midwest have fallen nearly 1,800 units short of the new or rehabbed housing that was promised for the site, with some 30,000 people on the public housing agency’s waiting list.
After the unexpected initial failure of the deal – which has gotten backing from the CHA, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and the Chicago Plan Commission –Tunney recessed the meeting and reconvened it for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, just 30 minutes before the day’s full meeting of the City Council.
Three alderpeople changed their vote to approve the deal on Wednesday: Ald. Felix Cardona (31st Ward), Ald. David Moore (17th Ward), and Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd Ward). The measure passed the committee 10-5.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th Ward), a staunch opponent of the measure to allow the soccer facility on land meant for public housing, attempted a motion to table the deal before the vote to reconsider. Beale said Tunney’s move to reconvene the meeting was “totally out of order.”
“I have never seen a roll call vote that was taken in committee and was voted down, and then because we don't like the outcome of the vote we reconvene to have another vote the very next day,” Beale said.
The measure then moved to the City Council’s regular meeting. Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward), whose ward the proposed development sits in, asked his colleagues to support the measure and called it “very beneficial” for nearby CHA tenants.
“Residents here are in support of this endeavor,” Ervin said.
A wide array of his colleagues – including Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th Ward), Ald. Emma Mitts (37th Ward), Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th Ward), Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward), and Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th Ward) – spoke out in favor of the plan, many of them on the grounds that the council should continue the tradition of aldermanic privilege and vote as the local alderperson wishes.
“I warned you that this is what it was going to come to,” Napolitano said, noting that the council voted against his wishes last December in approving a housing development in his ward that he opposed. Nonetheless, Napolitano backed the deal with the Fire.
Several alderpeople raised their objections to the plan, noting the city’s decades-long failure to create enough affordable housing to meet demand.
“The Plan for Transformation has failed,” said Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward), who noted she sat on a CHA waitlist for nearly three decades.
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th Ward) echoed those comments. “It’s urgent that we create affordable public housing,” he said.
Sigcho-Lopez moved to defer and publish the proposal, which would have delayed a vote for a month. He was joined by Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward).
Mayor Lori Lightfoot ruled that motion out of order and the deal passed.