Emanuel says new city housing department will coordinate affordability efforts

The agency will oversee his "Five-Year Housing Plan" aimed at increasing affordability

Mayor Rahm Emanuel (Credit: Getty Images and David Wilson via Flickr)
Mayor Rahm Emanuel (Credit: Getty Images and David Wilson via Flickr)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to resurrect the city’s housing department in an effort to coordinate his administration’s recent efforts aimed at affordable housing.

The mayor on Tuesday proposed creating the Chicago Department of Housing to oversee the implementation of the next “Five-Year Housing Plan” and coordinate the city’s myriad affordable housing initiatives. Those include the Building Neighborhood and Affordable Homes pilot program he announced Monday.

That program adds to an effort launched late last year to sell developers lots across the city for $1 each, in exchange for building single-family homes and two-flats on them.

Developers can buy eight to 20 city-owned lots, each with a maximum appraised value of $125,000. The developers would then sell the homes to qualified buyers with incomes up to 140 percent of area median income, or $110,600 for a family of four, the Chicago Tribune reported at the time.

The homes would be priced at approximately $150,000 to $300,000. The city agreed to reduce permit fees to make the program more appealing to developers, and to try to attract more small and minority developers.

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On Monday, the mayor proposed the new program to provide $40,000 to $60,000 to qualifying applicants toward the purchase of homes built through the $1 lot program, and who agree to live in them for 10 years. That effort is to be funded with $5 million from a fund that developers pay into instead of including affordable housing units in their projects.

“Each affordable housing project requires a unique stack of incentives, including land, financing, credits and affordability requirements to get across the finish line,” according to a mayor’s press release. “The housing department will be a partner to the development and advocacy community to bring new solutions to the city’s new challenges.”

Last week, Emanuel announced an effort to curb gentrification in areas of the city that have high demand for housing. The new Chicago Opportunity Investment Fund would provide low-cost financing to developers who buy multifamily buildings, if they agree to guarantee that 20 percent of the units remain affordable for 15 years.

The city committed another $5 million to that fund, and officials said they would look for private partners to contribute another $25 million.

The mayor has been issuing a flurry of press releases to address the city’s housing issue. On Friday, he pitched a plan to expand the city’s rules regarding transit-oriented developments to include parcels along major CTA bus lines. While Emanuel touted that proposal as another way to encourage affordable housing, developers cheered it as a way to eliminate the costly and sometimes unnecessary expense of building an equal number of parking spaces to housing units.

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