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Melanie Saltzman/MEDILL

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) speaks to reporters after Wednesday's City Council meeting, where the 5-year housing plan was passed. Fioretti, who pushed for more CHA oversight, was one of three aldermen who voted against the plan.

City Council approves Emanuel’s 5-year housing plan

by Melanie Saltzman
Feb 5, 2014

The 2014-18 Chicago housing plan was approved by City Council Wednesday.

With overwhelming support for his 5-year housing plan, Mayor Rahm Emanuel called for a vote without entertaining discussion or debate. It passed with three recorded ‘no’ votes from Alds. Scott Waguespack, Bob Fioretti and John Arena.

The plan largely focuses on affordable housing, cost reductions for owners and renters and community investment. The city will invest more than $1.1 billion in preserving or building 41,000 units, with 75 percent of those going to residents earning less than 60 percent of the local median income or $44,000 for a household of four.

Ald. Ray Suarez (31st), chairman of the committee on housing and real estate, voted to approve the plan and said it is especially respectable considering the current economic climate.

“The economy is in bad shape, but look at the money we committed to this plan,” Suarez said, referring to the city’s plans for investment and commitment to the 41,000 units. “It’s a very aggressive, very good plan.”

The foreclosure crisis and a population decline of 200,000 people from 2000 to 2010 are cited in the plan as reasons to take a new approach to Chicago housing. One of these new tactics is investment in community development. The idea is to boost the quality of life in various neighborhoods – making them more attractive places to live, and therefore strengthening the housing market and affordable housing options.

Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) also voted for the plan:

“This is a good conversation, and a good start,” Brookins said. “Anytime we have the city thinking seriously about affordable housing, that’s a good thing. The main reason I support it is because it’s a comprehensive plan.”

Opponents cite concerns regarding Chicago Housing Authority accountability and oversight, which is not addressed in the plan. They specifically point to the CHA’s failure to spend all available funds, distribute thousands of available vouchers, and fill thousands of vacant public housing units.

“The housing plan has no oversight of the CHA,” said Fioretti (2nd), who sided with Waguespack (32nd) and Arena (45th). “We’ve got CHA with roughly $350 million in reserves they’re not spending, and they’re not building. Something’s gone wrong and we’ve got to start standing up for citizens.”

There are currently 40,000 people on the CHA’s waiting list for a public housing unit or housing voucher, according to Matt Aguilar, CHA’s manager of media relations.

Brookins, along with Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), who also voted for the housing plan, both agree there are questions regarding the CHA that are not tackled in the plan.

“Addressing CHA oversight is something we wish would have been in the plan,” Brookins said. “But we received assurances steps would be taken to work closely with the CHA to ensure fairness, equity and bring more housing online.”

Burnett also noted that, ideally, there would have been additional funds invested toward affordable housing, and that “this is a very conservative plan.” He said this is partly because state and federal funding is not included. “Last time it didn’t come through so they didn’t want to rely on it,” Burnett said.

Burnett said he voted to approve the plan but will continue to push for CHA transparency and additional funding.

“It’s a conservative plan, but it’s just a plan. Not the end-all be-all,” Burnett said. “We’re going to continue to fight for more money all the time – and I think as the economy changes, there will be more opportunity.”