Task Force Recommends Legal Changes to Fight Segregation in Chicago
After a year of meetings, an Inclusionary Housing Task Force in Chicago has published a 50-page report outlining recommendations for improving the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO), which requires developers to set aside a portion of apartments in new buildings with more than 10 units at reduced-rate rents. Among its primary recommendations: The law should be updated to help produce more units that Black and Latinx residents can actually afford.
“The legacy of racist and classist actions like redlining, contract buying, and restrictive covenants has resulted in Chicago’s status as one of the most segregated cities in the country,” said Chicago Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara in an introductory note. “The cost of this segregation is high, both for the city’s overall economic vitality and, even more, for those who find their access to jobs, grocery stores, transit and other opportunities limited by their ZIP code. As a city, we must respond both by investing to ensure that every community has a high quality of life … as well as by using tools like the ARO so that those Chicagoans who want to remain in or move to a higher-cost neighborhood are able to do so.”
The ARO was created in 2007 and modified a handful of times since then, the report says. To date, it has resulted in the production of “nearly 1,500” units for very-low income and moderate-income families, and generated $123 million for affordable-housing programs. One of the primary recommendations in the report is to increase the proportion of units that developers are required to build alongside new projects, instead of covering their obligation with an “in-lieu fee.”
The Task Force also recommended requiring more deeply affordable and larger units, strengthening accessibility requirements, creating more incentives, and establishing a dedicated source of affordable-housing funding in the city, according to the report. In her introduction, Novara emphasized that the report is “not an outline of the ordinance to come,” but a record of the conversations the Task Force had. She said she expects it to serve as “a launching point for further conversations” and a public comment period in the fall before any legislative update is drafted. In a press release, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the report was “a critical first step” in ensuring that all Chicagoans can “live and lead happy, fulfilled lives in whichever neighborhood they choose.”
Texas Tax Break Fails to Produce Affordable Housing
A tax break intended to promote affordable housing, adopted with minimal discussion in the Texas legislature in 2015, has instead benefited private developers without producing many units for low-income residents, according to a report in the San Antonio Express-News. Developers taking advantage of the law receive a 100 percent property-tax reduction and additional tax savings on building supplies, but because of “a series of loopholes buried in the paperwork,” the developers are able to rent housing at or near market-rates, the report says. Thirty projects have taken advantage of the law since it was passed, according to the report, with more than half of them occurring in the last year.
“The one-sentence amendment has resulted in private developers receiving tens of millions of dollars in property tax breaks. It has saved them millions more in tax-free construction costs — all with scant benefit to the public, according to a study released Monday by the University of Texas School of Law,” the report says.
According to the report, the amendment was promoted by a lobbyist with ties to a company that has since used the law to claim “annual property tax breaks cumulatively worth more than $10 million, plus another $11.6 million in sales tax breaks on construction costs.” Many of the projects made possible by the amendment include income limits that are tied to area median wages but not adjusted for family size, with the result that an individual making more than $60,000 in some areas could qualify for an apartment — not much different than market-rate rentals. In addition, the law does not require that rents are capped at an affordable portion of the tenant’s income, and many of the projects don’t even accept housing vouchers, according to the report.
“It’s clearly a misuse of taxpayer funds,” John Henneberger, co-director of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, told the paper. “I don’t see that we’re giving anybody anything other than the developer.”
The legislator who sponsored the amendment has since lost his seat, according to the report.
D.C. Housing Authority Required to Implement Security Plan
The District of Columbia Housing Authority will be required to implement a new security plan, under a settlement agreement in a lawsuit filed earlier this year by the District Attorney General over the Authority’s “failure to confront ongoing drug- and firearm-related nuisances,” according to a press release from the Attorney General’s office. As part of the settlement, the Authority is required to “install and maintain lights and security cameras, hire additional security personnel, secure vacant units, perform daily inspections, and perform frequent property maintenance,” according to the release. The lawsuit filed by the Attorney General in June alleged that the Authority was failing to create a safe atmosphere for tenants at 10 of its properties. In addition to the new security plan, the Authority is required under the settlement to perform frequent inspections and engage regularly with resident councils at each of the properties “to discuss illegal activity at the properties, implementation of DCHA’s security plan, availability of services to address crime reduction holistically, and the use of alternatives to traditional policing to address crime,” according to the release.
Some advocates raised concerns that the Attorney General’s lawsuit would have the effect of criminalizing more public-housing tenants, according to a report in the Washington Post.
“We fear that it will result in more overpolicing of communities that are already overpoliced and in the eviction of public housing residents using draconian federal one-strike law,” Amanda Korber, a housing attorney with the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, told the Post.
In response, District Attorney General Karl Racine told the Post that he was “sensitive to overpolicing concerns,” but that the settlement was created to respond to the expressed desires of tenants in the ten Housing Authority properties.
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Jared Brey is Next City's housing correspondent, based in Philadelphia. He is a former staff writer at Philadelphia magazine and PlanPhilly, and his work has appeared in Columbia Journalism Review, Landscape Architecture Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Philadelphia Weekly, and other publications.