Long before the mortgage meltdown, renters were struggling to secure
affordable housing in a Chicago market turned upside down by years of gentrification. A faltering economy has only intensified this
challenge. And three independent campaigns are now being waged ...
Long before the mortgage meltdown, renters were struggling to secure affordable housing in a Chicago market turned upside down by years of gentrification. A faltering economy has only intensified this challenge. And three independent campaigns are now being waged across the city to bolster an ever-dwindling supply of housing for low- and middle-income residents.
In Uptown and Bronzeville -- two gentrifying lakefront communities on opposite sides of the city -- voters will cast ballots tomorrow on non-binding referendums calling for the city to set-aside Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds or city-owned land for affordable housing. Grassroots community groups are backing both measures.
Northside Action for Justice, a coalition of Uptown and Rogers Park residents, is asking voters to support earmarking 40 percent of the city's TIF funds for preserving or creating affordable housing.*
Eleven miles south, Housing Bronzeville wants roughly a quarter of the community's 1,800 vacant, city-owned lots developed and made available to those working people increasingly priced out of the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, despite a cool reception from the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), residents of the Lathrop Homes are asking why officials haven't filled the public housing development's 600 vacant apartments as the agency's plan for transformation fledges.
That a high foreclosure rate, softening housing market, and glut of
empty homes would turn out to be bad for renters seems
counterintuitive. But this is the case, according to a recent study (PDF) by the Woodstock Institute (WI).
As many as 28,932 apartments in 2007 alone were emptied when building owners went belly up, the Institute reports. This year, the foreclosure rate has only accelerated, creating even more problems for renters.
Perhaps the most solid evidence that people are desperate came when the CHA fielded applications for subsidized housing last spring. More than 250,000 people applied. A mere 40,000 actually made the wait list, including an estimated 6,000 families.
In the meantime, housing costs continue to climb, outpacing Illinois incomes. The minimum wage necessary to afford a two-bedroom apartment these days is $16.23, according to Housing Action Illinois. That's out of reach for more than a quarter of the state's full-time workforce. As a result, a growing number of families are spending their nights in shelters or on couches until they can scrape together money for a place of their own.
With tens of thousands more looking for places to stay, Ed Shurna, executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless says the absence of a viable citywide plan is discouraging. He adds that the lack of action at Lathrop is unconscionable.
"It's wrong to keep those [apartments] boarded up considering the demand there is for housing," Shurna said. "It wouldn't solve the entire problem ... but it's one of the things you should do if you care about families."
*CLARIFICATION (11/9/08): Only certain Uptown residents ultimately voted on the referendum, specifically those living in "precincts 8, 12, 20, 22, 23, 26, 32, 38, 41, 42 and 47 in the 46th Ward, virtually all of which fall within the Wilson Yard TIF District."