Mayor Brandon Johnson signs executive order to speed up city building approvals

Fourteen city departments are tasked with streamlining their approval processes for commercial and residential construction

Chicago Mayor Wants to Speed Up Construction Approvals
Mayor Brandon Johnson (Getty)

Brandon Johnson is trying to remove speed bumps for developers.

The Chicago mayor on Monday issued an executive order for 14 city departments to streamline their processes for approving both residential and commercial building projects.

“My administration recognizes that some of the city’s current processes are overly cumbersome and counterproductive for commercial and housing development, which actually impedes the progress that Chicago residents and businesses deserve,” Johnson said at the groundbreaking ceremony for a $40 million affordable housing project in the North Lawndale neighborhood.

“We need more affordable housing, we need more small businesses, we need more economic activity, and we need good-paying union jobs to revitalize our city.”

Departments have 90 days to submit a report of proposed changes to the deputy mayor of business and neighborhood development, Kenya Meritt. A new director of process improvement will be appointed within the mayor’s office to oversee the process.

Johnson is proposing reworking the departments of buildings, finance, budget management, planning and development, transportation and water management, among others.

While the real estate industry is likely to embrace the mayor’s effort to pick up the pace for development permits, it’s also fighting a property transfer tax proposal spearheaded by Johnson that’s set to quadruple the city’s take out of all property sales for $1.5 million or more, if voters approve the mayor’s plan in a March referendum.

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The mayor also announced the initiative to accelerate building approvals as the U.S.Department of Housing and Urban Development is urging the city to scale back the influence of so-called aldermanic prerogative over local development decisions. This fall, HUD wrote the city to ask it to come to an “informal resolution” to a nearly five-year civil rights investigation into how aldermen from each of Chicago’s 50 wards wield unwritten local veto power over affordable housing developments. It works because aldermen are unlikely to challenge their colleagues’ preferences for their wards, as they would risk losing control over their own wards.

Similar unspoken rules are part of the fabric of development decision-making in other cities, too, including New York City, where the practice is referred to as “member deference” among city council members.

Chicago leaders want Johnson’s order for internal reviews aimed at speeding up development approvals to boost growth in areas that have been historically neglected both by local government and the business community. The federal inquiry alleges that the power has been disproportionately used by majority-white wards to prevent or minimize affordable housing proposals, thus exacerbating racial segregation.

“Chicago is grappling with an affordable housing shortage and disinvested business corridors disproportionately located on the South and West sides,” Meritt said.

The North Lawndale project is being developed by East Lake Management Corporation along with Grace at Jerusalem Community Development Corporation. It received financial support from the Chicago Housing Authority and the City’s Department of Housing. It will include community and commercial tenants on the ground floor.

“I believe that this building will become an anchor and it will start the beginning of positive development in this community,” said Rev. Marvin Hunter, a leader with Grace at Jerusalem CDC, the Sun-Times reported.

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