With little fanfare, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan swung through Chicago last week to announce that Illinois has snagged another $95 million in stimulus funds -- this time to get some long-stalled affordable housing projects off the ground...
With little fanfare, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan swung through Chicago last week to announce that Illinois has snagged another $95 million in stimulus funds -- this time to get some long-stalled affordable housing projects off the ground. After nearly a decade of neglecting to invest in the nation's affordable housing stock, the federal money (which must be spent by 2012) will jump-start construction on 2,546 units, while putting roughly 3,000 Illinoisans to work.
Coupled with Gov. Pat Quinn's pledge to commit $145 million more through the yet-to-be-signed capital bill, Donovan's visit created a dose of optimism for Illinois advocates. "It's a step in the right direction," Housing Action Illinois' Bob Palmer tells us. "But we have many, many more steps to take."
One of the biggest challenges is that Illinois' Affordable Housing Trust Fund, like other state-funded agencies that rely on tanking real estate transfer taxes, won't accrue nearly the sort of revenue necessary to plow through the list of unfunded shovel-ready projects (PDF). And private investment is increasingly tough to come by. There are currently 54 separate projects in the queue, representing 3,585 units. We looked a little closer at the list and found that more than a third of those units are located in Chicago. That begs an obvious question: How does Mayor Daley -- who has long favored the University Village variety of "affordable housing" -- plan to get the ball rolling on these desperately-needed new projects?
For years, affordable housing advocates have been pressing City Hall for an answer. The mayor's latest response came back in February when he rolled out a five-year, $2 billion housing plan. Affordable housing advocates were unimpressed by the mayor's proposal (which, incidentally, he decided to keep under wraps until after it won City Council approval). The Chicago Rehab Network, for instance, criticized the plan as missing the mark because it calls for a 28 percent decrease in new spending on multi-unit family housing, while committing nearly $1 billion to single-family homeownership initiatives, which, in large part, accommodate families making upwards of $75,400 a year.
Julie Dworkin of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless tells us that the city's failure to carve out more spending for families on the extreme low end of the market is a cause for concern, particularly considering that the $15 million earmarked for affordable housing following the city's $1.8 billion Skyway lease is virtually tapped out.
Daley's lack of action comes at a critical time; thousands of rental units continue to be lost to foreclosure every month and the overall downturn in the economy is pushing an alarming number of families into homelessness. To make matters worse, the city has continued to close shelters as part of its 10-year Plan To End Homelessness, which was drafted with the expectation that people would be transitioned into permanent housing. Of course, without public investment, homeless families have nowhere to go, as the Chicago Reporter highlighted in its latest Chicago Matters installment:
At the start of the plan, Chicago had 3,783 emergency, overnight and transitional shelter beds, [Chicago Department of Family and Support Services spokeswoman Anne] Sheahan said. Just 2,154 beds remain. In data collected by the city for one week in January 2009, interim housing and safe-haven providers turned away 688 households on the basis of having no vacancy. Emergency shelters turned away 90 households that week because they had no vacancy.
“We’ve had a waiting list at least since January of 2008, for over a year,” said Sarah Pegman of San Jose Obrero Mission, an interim housing provider for men in Pilsen.
As part of a broad push for a bottom-up recovery, progressive groups are carefully studying the resources available to the city to ameliorate the damage already done. We're expecting to see some more action on that front soon. Stay tuned.
Image used under a Creative Commons license by Flickr user stevevance.