A New Ordinance Could Finally Open Chicago’s Gentrifying Neighborhoods to Affordable Housing

Advocates with the “Our Home, Chicago” Coalition announcing the introduction of a comprehensive package of legislation including the Development for All ordinance this morning at City Hall.

Advocates with the “Our Home, Chicago” Coalition announcing the introduction of a comprehensive package of legislation including the Development for All ordinance this morning at City Hall.

City Council members today are introducing a new ordinance that could change the rules around future development to make Chicago more affordable and less racially segregated.

Backed by a coalition of 25 community organizations and 3 labor unions, the “Development For All” ordinance is designed to create balanced and inclusive development without causing the devastating patterns of displacement that impact many low-income families in gentrifying neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Uptown.

In Chicago, these persistent trends of geographic inequality are as deeply rooted in race as they are in economics. According to a UIC report from 2017, about two-thirds of Black renters and more than half of Latinx renters are cost-burdened, spending 30% or more of their income on monthly rental costs. The same is true for only about four in ten White renters.

Over the past year, Staff Attorney Cliff Helm of Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights has worked closely with coalition groups to provide background research, legal context, technical assistance and support on the contours of the “Development for All” ordinance.

“One of the goals is to have more affordable housing in wealthier areas of the city, or opportunity areas,” Cliff explains. “This is a significant change from the way we’ve normally done business in Chicago.” 

The ordinance takes aim at loopholes in the current Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO), which requires developers to include affordable units in their building plans but allows them to opt out by paying a fee. Those fees have been paid into two funds that have mostly steered affordable housing away from gentrifying areas, instead adding them to neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side and other areas already struggling economically. This fails the ARO’s “inclusionary zoning” goal to include affordable housing in all areas of the city, and particularly those areas without very much affordable housing.

The “Development for All” ordinance fixes those flaws by eliminating the option to pay a fee instead of building affordable units. The ordinance would use research from the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University to map out the areas of the city most vulnerable to displacement. Low-rent neighborhoods that have suffered disinvestment will have low affordability requirements for developers, while high-rent zones will require 30% of new units to be set aside as affordable housing. 

Of course, advocates aren’t expecting this ordinance to end the negative impacts of gentrification for low-income families.

“There are lots of different contributors to gentrification and displacement, and the lack of new affordable housing as the development happens is just one of them,” says Cliff. “We need to create equitable development across the city.”

The new ordinance gets to another problem with the current ARO: accessibility. By requiring wheelchair-accessible housing options, it specifically acknowledges the housing concerns of people with disabilities in a way that the current requirements do not.

The major changes within the “Development for All” ordinance are expected to meet some resistance, not least of all from developers who argue that stronger affordable housing requirements will kill all new investment. 

Cliff’s response is simple: “Every time there’s a fee or requirement attached to development, the response is that the sky is falling,” he says. “But without onsite affordable housing where development is actually happening, we will not begin to address the segregation and housing crisis across the city.” 

Big challenges require big solutions, and the coalition is hopeful that the new City administration will be more interested in equitable development than the previous one. After its introduction today, the ordinance will go through a review process and will be sent to committee hearings for possible amendments before a final vote in City Council. 

To get involved, check out Chicago Housing Initiative (CHI) and follow them on social media. You can make a difference by turning out for coalition actions and press conferences, and by calling your alderperson to let them know you support the “Development for All” ordinance!