None of the real estate industry’s preferred mayoral candidates made the runoff. Now what?

Builder and broker groups are digging in to Toni Preckwinkle and Lori Lightfoot’s views on rent control and affordable housing

TRD CHICAGO /
Feb.February 27, 2019 04:00 PM

From left: Toni Preckwinkle, Lori Lightfoot, Bill Daley, Susana Mendoza (Top), and Gery Chico (Bottom) (Credit: Facebook and iStock)

The real estate industry spread its support among a handful of candidates leading up to Tuesday’s crowded mayoral election. None of them made it into the April 2 runoff.

Instead, builders and brokers are staring down a choice most had hoped to avoid: a one-on-one race between Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and former Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot, two self-styled progressive reformers promising to change the city’s relationship with developers.

Lightfoot has proposed restricting the use of tax increment financing for development and limiting aldermen’s unilateral powers over zoning approvals in their own wards, potentially creating new roadblocks for developers to navigate. And Preckwinkle is an full-throated supporter of legalizing rent control, a movement property owners are bent on defeating at all costs.

Neither candidate counted much support from real estate donors, who combined for about 3 percent of total contributions to Preckwinkle’s campaign, according to an analysis by The Real Deal. And few of the top donors to Lightfoot’s lightly-funded campaign, mostly attorneys and doctors, have any direct ties to the industry, according to election records.

In other words, the industry is waiting to be courted, according to Paul Colgan, a lobbyist with the Home Builders Association of Greater Chicago.

“As both these candidates start looking for new bases of support, we’re going to be watching where they go,” Colgan said. “If one of candidates is willing to embrace policies that work, we’ll work with them. … But if they try to out-progressive each other, it’s going to be very disappointing.”

Colgan said industry leaders will be watching especially closely to see how the candidates size up the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance, whose most recent expansion in 2017 some developers have called overly punitive.

Lightfoot and Preckwinkle both have spoken broadly about the need to build more affordable housing citywide, but neither has said how they would adapt the ARO, which Preckwinkle helped establish when she was an alderman in 2003.

“We’re looking for a leader who will embrace incentives, not penalties, to increase our supply of affordable housing,” Colgan said.

David Goldman, a principal at the development firm Belgravia Group, also said he’ll be watching closely to see what each contender says about the city’s affordability rules.

“I think anything that either candidate says about the ARO will signal a lot about what kind of direction they’re going to take,” Goldman said. “I think (the ordinance’s) mission is laudable, but it concentrates responsibility solely on the shoulders of residential developers.”

“I think a wiser approach would be to spread that responsibility among a larger pool of operators” by requiring office and retail developers to pay into the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, Goldman added.

The two women delivered nearly identical responses to questionnaires released by the Chicago Association of Realtors ahead of a Jan. 28 forum. The only difference was that Lightfoot indicated her support for amending city code to give local judges more power over awarding damages to tenants, a measure landlords say would protect them against unreasonable fines. Preckwinkle did not mark support for the measure.

But both are open to hiking real estate transfer taxes on expensive properties, which Realtors oppose. And both support expanding the city’s list of allowed building materials, which developers say would make construction cheaper and allow them to charge lower rents.

“We have too much red tape, and it’s making it impossible to get a building done,” Lightfoot told Realtors during the forum last month. “We need to lower the bureaucracy so more units get built, and we need to make sure the building code is flexible enough to accommodate the challenges of construction.”

Similarly, Preckwinkle cited a need to “make the permitting and licensing process more transparent” in order to accelerate construction all over the city.

Lightfoot declined during the forum to take a position on rent control, saying it’s “not an issue we need to be focused on right now.”

Both candidates also told WBEZ they would support eliminating single-family zoning designations and allow small-scale apartment construction all over the city, a policy recently adopted in Minneapolis that’s widely lauded by property owners and builder groups.

Now that the field has narrowed, the Chicago Association of Realtors must take a “deeper dive” to learn more about where each candidate stands on issues related to construction and property ownership, according to Brian Bernardoni, the group’s director of policy and governmental affairs.

“This is not an easy decision for us,” Bernardoni said. “We’re going to have to closely evaluate both the candidates and see how they would relate to the new City Council, where a number of races are still undecided.”

The association does not typically endorse candidates, but it does make campaign contributions. And heading into the runoff, the group’s political action arm will focus on propping up certain incumbent aldermen who are headed into runoffs — namely Aldermen Pat O’Connor (40th), James Cappleman (46th) and Michele Smith (43rd).

Board members of the association’s political action committee will discuss which candidate to support for mayor during a March 12 meeting, Bernardoni said.


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