The Daily Dirt: Feds call out local housing veto

Issue in Chicago may highlight problems in other markets

HUD Calls Out Housing Veto: The Daily Dirt
(Illustration by The Real Deal)

Member deference by another name does not pass the smell test with the feds.*  

The Department of Housing and Urban Development sent a letter to the city of Chicago saying that its local veto, known as aldermanic prerogative, is  “instrumental in creating Chicago’s patterns of segregation.”

The letter was in response to a complaint alleging that the tradition of granting alderpersons “unfettered power” over what income-restricted housing is built in their wards reinforces segregation in the city.

While HUD has not finished its investigation, the agency has already found that “many majority-white wards use the local veto to block, deter or downsize such proposals,” the Chicago Sun Times reports.

“As a result, new affordable housing is rarely, if ever, constructed in the majority-white wards that have the least affordable housing,” Lon Meltesen, regional director of HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, wrote in the letter.

New York has its own version of a local veto: member deference. Various groups have criticized this long-standing practice, in which City Council members vote on land use issues according to how the local member does. In a 2020 report, the Citizens Budget Commission highlighted how the tradition creates uncertainty and deters housing production. The group has recommended creating an appeal process for land use applications rejected by the Council.

I asked Open New York’s Annemarie Gray about HUD’s actions in Chicago. She was encouraged by the agency’s attention to an exclusionary housing policy. She noted that in New York, housing projects struggle to gain support, and some developers do not even bother going through the city’s land use process because of the veto threat.

“The problem is the projects that are never proposed in the highest resourced areas because of the assumption that they will not be approved,” she said.

New York should get some points, though, for its terminology. Chicago has aldermanic prerogative, while Philadelphia and Los Angeles stick with councilmanic prerogative. Baltimore County has “councilmanic courtesy.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

*Yes, this is a convoluted Shakespeare reference. Thank you for noticing.

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A thing we’ve learned: Speaking of skybridges, LaGuardia Airport was apparently the first in the world to have two.

Elsewhere in New York…

— Hundreds of adult migrants have spent hours in the cold waiting for shelter placement, Gothamist reports. They were pushed out of other shelters by the city’s new 30-day limit on stays. Some waited overnight Tuesday outside a former Catholic school in the East Village to save their spot on the line, despite 20-degree temperatures.

— Migrants seeking work permits are facing a number of challenges, including the limited number of immigration attorneys, the backlog in cases and the city’s 30-day shelter policies that complicate their ability to have an address to receive necessary paperwork, Politico New York reports. Since October, only 5,500 work authorizations have been completed in New York.  

— It has not snowed in Central Park for 653 days. That breaks the last record of 383 days, which ended in March 1988, the New York Times reports.

Closing Time

Residential: The priciest residential closing Wednesday was for Bob Knakal’s condo unit at 737 Park Avenue in Lenox Hill for $13 million.

Commercial: The most expensive commercial closing of the day was a $16 million retail property at 273 Brighton Beach Avenue Brooklyn.

New to the Market: The priciest residence to hit the market Wednesday was a condo unit at 39 Lispenard Street in Tribeca for $11.5 million. Brown Harris Stevens has the listing. — Kathryn Brenzel

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