Coalition for Equitable Community Development
This page, prepared by Gary Ossewaarde and complements of www.hydepark.org, contains records of the forum, discussions surrounding it, and a set of
April 29 Forum, consisting of panel presentations and discussion followed
by three breakout sessions, was convened by
Wonderful handouts were
distributed, which are shared in the www.hydepark.org Affordable
Housing Information page. The forum showed there is a sizeable group
determined to go to work to make affordability happen by setting up
structures, including financial, to move this forward. In the vanguard are members
of the faith-based organizations. (Members of the latter, asked for reasons
for their high interest, cited both the practical needs of parishioners that
continually come to the fore in the care of souls and also that the faith task
and commission is to address the moral higher questions and their consequences--what
am I on earth to do?)
The program began with 8-minute panelist comments on the state and prospects for affordability and economic diversity in Hyde Park and Kenwood, followed by questions submitted by the audience. Panelists were Winston Kennedy, realtor, Century 21; Pat Wilcoxen of Interfaith Open Communities; Hank Webber, University of Chicago Vice President for Community and Government Affairs; Alderman Toni Preckwinkle (4th); and Alderman Leslie Hairston (5th). The questions posed to the panel were:
Win Kennedy and Pat Wilcoxen gave sobering statistics showing that not only seniors' but younger people's chances of buying, entering assisted living, or (this is coming) renting in this neighborhood are increasingly remote and that we are in danger of becoming mostly high income with low income on the fringes and so losing economic diversity. They pointed out that $500,000 is the mean unit cost here, and that is a tremendous burden for a family, if you run the costs, considering that about 28% of family income toward housing is reasonable rule of thumb. Other issues are another uptick in condo conversions (with a tightening of rents to come) and that many families, especially immigrant, have to double up-which can lead to bad results to quality of living, burden on services including schools, and wear on the housing stock if not managed carefully. Wilcoxen pointed out that of five previous houses or units her family has lived in the neighborhood, four no longer exist and were replaced by very different kinds of housing (expensive), so comparable income new generations are not able to experience those former dwelling units.
Hank Webber said the University wants and thrives on diverse housing types for its students and personnel and in the neighborhood. He cited the doubling of dwelling prices (although not rents) as troubling, related to population stagnation as well as shift of many from renting to owning, especially condos, partly because of low interest rates. And we have lots of good, old stock that is expensive to maintain. He cited University programs that help staff buy and that preserve buildings as affordable units. He said the University takes great care with student housing to not crowd or drive up the market. He said that subsidy is necessary if we are to keep and grow the affordable stock--he suggested looking at land trusts. The trade-offs are challenging but have to be addressed.
Alderman Preckwinkle started by citing studies that prove what we observe--lower income people pay disproportionately for housing. And the housing they can afford is disappearing--including Section 8, which is timed to expire. The next higher income level of working poor to middle-income is squeezing out low income and either buying and converting their housing, replacing, or filling in and thus pricing the low income out. New construction does not even match demographic demand: We need 3 and 4 bedroom units but get 1 and 2. She pointed to doubling up, especially in heavily Latino areas. Yet, there is virtually nothing built for singles or single parents. Neighborhoods are increasingly segregated, even isolated by income. She described the set aside ordinance and its lack of prospects. She suggested locally community development corporations.
Alderman Hairston said plainly, there is no affordable housing in Hyde Park, and the concept has not been defined--it slides with income and the neighborhood. The city pulled the 30%-on-housing federal figure, which means housing costing $190,000 to $210,000--affordable to whom? She clarified that there are public housing units in west Hyde Park, and said that the affordable stock there needs shoring up. But note, she said, we are still concentrating low income in certain neighborhoods and parts of neighborhoods. As an example, the schools are differentiated as poor performing--largely lower income, renting, moving families, up to the high performing that draw from high income, owning families--and are the racially diverse ones.
In addition, there is no new fixed-income housing being built, especially in Hyde Park and Kenwood. Increasingly, the middle class below a certain income can't buy, but rents--and the rental units are endangered. Yet, a dilemma is that renters seem to feel less stake in the community (and stay less long)--they are not "public participants"-- found at public meetings or volunteering--in the same proportion as owners. Could some want to be and be helped to be owners? How can we reverse the slide to segregating, concentrating, and crowding out.
Brought out in the extensive questioning was that there are few options for single, single parent, non-rich seniors, persons with medical problems or disabilities. And no one has considered a senior rent freeze like the homeowner's freezes. Audience members urged the breakout groups to define what is affordable and what is needed by those challenged in that regard.
By Erin Meyer
Almost 100 residents, fair housing advocates and officials lined the pews of First Unitarian Church Saturday morning in response to the "changing nature" of Hyde Park's housing market.
"We want this forum to start momentum," said organizer Pat Wilcoxen of Interfaith Open Communities. "We should all leave here today with some idea with some idea of what actions we will take to increase the supply of affordable housing."
A panel included the University of Chicago's Vice President of Government and Community Affairs Hank Webber, aldermen Toni Preckwinkle (4th) and Leslie Hairston (5th) and local realtor Winston Kennedy.
"Affordable housing in Hyde Park is a misnomer," stated Hairston. The City of Chicago defines affordable as ranging in price between $190,000 to $210,000 for a two-bedroom unit. According to Hairston, fair-housing advocates first need to consider their own definition for affordable housing before taking action. "If [the city's definition of affordable] is where we are starting, we are not going anywhere," she said in reference to all the middle-income residents in Hyde Park and the surrounding neighborhoods who cannot afford to buy a home. "An individual making $40,000 a year should be able to buy a home. As a government employee, I might qualify for affordable housing."
The Bronzeville area has seen even more sweeping redevelopment and increased property values than Hyde Park in recent years.*Many of the neighborhoods' low-income families and former residents of the Robert Taylor Homes have been displaced to South Shore, which lies in Hairston's ward. "We are concentrating the majority of low-income people in one particular area," she said. "As it is, there will never be a mixed-income community."
Preckwinkle referred repeatedly to her proposed set aside ordinance--which has failed to win Mayor Richard M. Daley's support--now languishing in a committee. If passed by City Council, the ordinance would require all sizable new constructions in the City of Chicago to include 15 percent affordable units. "When we push low-income people out of the city, that's not in our best interests," Preckwinkle said.
Still the alderman advised resident to focus on Hyde Park's existing affordable and low-income housing stock in light of rising land costs and the lack of vacant land. "If we are going to have affordable housing in our neighborhood, we are going to have to subsidize it. We are not going to do it through the market."
But residents pointed to Shiloh Baptist Church, 4840 S. Dorchester Ave.; St. Stephens Church, 5640 s. Blackstone Ave.; and Doctors Hospital, 5800 S. Stony Island Ave.. all vacant and possible sites for conversions o r new construction.
The affordable housing debate is playing out between Preckwinkle and Fernando Leal's L3 Development LLC, which plans to build a 17.5-story residential building [at] 53rd Street and Cornell Avenue. Originally Preckwinkle requested that the developer allocate 15 percent of the proposed building's units as affordable. But in recent months, both parties settled on units at a off-site location.
Residents broke out into focus groups to address various Hyde Park affordable housing issues including the overall shrinking supply, senior access and public and private efforts to develop housing.
Group leader Allan Lindrup of the First Unitarian Church presented a threefold strategy to encourage the preservation and development of affordable housing. He recommended two coalition member groups, the Older Women's League and the League of Women Voters, pressure lawmakers to support legislation including Preckwinkle's set aside ordinance.
Discussion also centered on the creation of a community development corporation (CDC), which would enable local organizations to impact the Hyde Park housing market directly. "Until there is a local entity focused on acquisition and preservation of property, you'll have a tough time," Preckwinkle told residents. Local organizations generate funds through CDC's to develop economic programs and provide financial support for a community.
Another group focused on the housing barriers seniors in Hyde Park face. "When it comes to discrimination by age in Hyde Park, it is based on income rather than race," Hairston said. Senior participants suggested house sharing and contacting condo associations to increase awareness.
"I don't want to be part of that saying, "Black and white together shouldering out the poor," Wilcoxen said.
* At another event, more than one person worried that their neighborhood west of Washington Park is seeing rising property values and they may not be able to afford to stay there.
Neighborhoods are most healthy when there is diversity in the range of housing options. That was the take-home message of the recent housing forum hosted by the First Unitarian Church.
While Hyde Park is considered one of Chicago's few diverse neighborhoods, the message should become how does the neighborhood maintain its current housing stock while still attracting new development. It is good that people are talking about preserving housing for middle-income families, seniors, the working poor and those on public aid. Making it happen is t he bigger challenge.
Hyde Park's two aldermen, a local realtor and a University of Chicago official were invited to share their views on the state of housing in the neighborhood and answer questions from the audience. Breakout group sessions that followed addressed the issues of senior housing, public and private efforts to develop housing and availability of housing stock.
At 100, the forum was well attended, and the race and age makeup of the audience suggests a good cross section of the neighborhood is interested in these issues. Follow-up forums would be welcomed, because more and more Hyde Parkers are asking the inevitable question" "Can we still afford to live here?"
The concern is justified. The old Harper Theater may very well become a condominium high rise; something as tall as the 14-story Hyde Park Bank building is being suggested for the site. A new high rise is likely to be built at the corner of 53rd Street and Cornell Avenue. The developer there is proposing all high-end condominiums. Though he has agreed to create affordable housing off site, there is no guarantee that housing will be located in Hyde Park.
Other targeted sites for new housing could include the 53rd Street Mobil gas station, the former Vivekananda Vedanta Society home, St. Stephens Church, Doctor's Hospital, and maybe one day Harper Court. Even the loss of rental units is being used as a marketing tool by MAC Properties, which is mailing bright, yellow postcards that exclaim "Warning, Condo Conversion Ahead!" to apartment dwellers in the neighborhood. All the signs point to housing changes.
Fourth Ward Ald. Toni Preckwinkle's claim at the housing forum that there is no land for new housing in Hyde Park is a little misleading. There may be no vacant land, but as listed above there are plenty of old, vacant buildings ripe for redeveloping.
The new development is welcome to the neighborhood. The Herald continues to endorse the proposed 17.5-story high rise at 53rd Street and Cornell Avenue. But it would be great to see the kinds of merchants the developer wants to attract at that boarded-up stretch of 53rd Street.
New housing, however, should not come at the cost of losing the residents who have made Hyde Park home for decades. In the face of rising property values, efforts must be underway to preserve and create housing affordable to everyone.
Understandably, as Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) pointed out at the forum, not everyone is on the same page as to w hat "affordable housing" means. It means something different to every family earning $30,000 to $60,000 to $100,000. And seniors have a different definition of affordable housing than those on public aid.
But in Hyde Park, which prides itself on being a diverse community, quality of life begins in the quality and availability of housing. A set-aside guarantee, like the one Preckwinkle suggests for new condominium developments throughout her ward, is one solution. The availability of rental units must also be preserved, as even young professionals and families may not be ready for home-ownership. There should also be a concentrated effort to establish more affordable, senior assisted-living in Hyde Park.
Linda Thisted of Interfaith Open Communities spoke on the April 29 Affordable Housing Forum to the May 8 TIF meeting