Mayor puts brakes on Sweet Home Chicago

Affordable housing crapshoot

11/24/2010 10:00 PM

Contributing Reporter and Editor

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Even as a lame duck, Mayor Richard M. Daley has shaped the fate of the Sweet Home Chicago ordinance and its plan to spend hundreds of millions on affordable housing in the coming years.

Last week 13 members of a committee defied Daley and forwarded the ordinance to set aside 20 percent of the city’s annual tax increment financing revenues toward affordable housing to a full city council vote last Wednesday.

With more than half of the aldermen in support, sponsor Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) was concerned that a few might “double cross” he and others who have worked since last spring to bring the ordinance to vote.

One week later the ordinance was back in the joint committee after intervention by the Mayor’s office. In the end, it was Burnett who decided to avoid the full vote. He decided that the wiser course of action was to negotiate a new substitute ordinance over the original—one that Daley could agree on while satisfying other aldermen now seeking amendments and reelection.

One possible amendment rips the guts out of the affordable housing ordinance by turning the articulated mandate to spend 20 percent of annual TIF dollars—about $100 million in 2009—into an unenforceable goal.

“Many City Council members could cave in and vote with the Daley administration even though they are signed on as co-sponsors,” says Dick Simpson, chair of the University of Illinois-Chicago political science department and a former Chicago Alderman.

Even if the City Council were to approve the ordinance, Daley could issue a rare mayoral veto; the council would then need 34 votes to overturn. According to Burnett, the amendments have now been made and he — along with cosponsors and the Sweet Home Chicago Coalition of nine community groups and three labor unions — are close to reaching a deal with the mayor. “We almost have a compromise,” he said. “We are 99 percent there.”

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) is a cosponsor with the largest TIF reserves and heavily involved advocate of Sweet Home Chicago. He said he did not think the mayor’s move against the ordinance was retaliatory for years of his vocal opposition, and his no vote on Daley’s last budget. Fioretti also saw “pet schools project” set for action stomped out before a school board vote last week.

The next step, Burnett said, is for the ordinance to pass yet again out of committee and then be voted on by the full council Dec. 8. The joint committee is expected to vote on a new version of the ordinance this week.

Delays by Daley

Daley has opposed and worked to delay consideration of the Sweet Home Chicago ordinance since Burnett introduced it in March.

Representatives from the Department of Community Development—the office that would implement the ordinance—have balked at the idea of limiting the flexibility of the program by forcing each TIF district to spend 20 percent on affordable housing.

About $500 million each year in property tax revenue goes to the city’s 166 TIF districts. As it works now, the mayor and aldermen who preside over the TIF district have discretion to use this money in any way that encourages development.

In negotiations this past week, the city has agreed to the general spirit of the ordinance—a set-aside of 20 percent of TIF revenue to create and rehabilitate units before turning them into affordable housing. The sticking point is that the city wants the 20 percent figure to be a “goal,” not an enforceable mandate.

Burnett would not rule out changing the set-aside to a goal instead of a mandate. “It is not just me making this decision,” he said. “It is the whole coalition and we make our decisions together, but I don’t think we’ll agree to goal language.”

Burnett is negotiating with the Daley administration a week after he blasted them on the council floor for treating aldermen like little kids whose purpose was to rubber stamp the mayor’s agenda. When the ordinance passed out of committee 13-8, a packed council chamber of Sweet Home Chicago coalition members gave Burnett an ovation.

The seeds, however, were planted during the committee meeting to delay a full City Council vote. Ald. Ed Smith (28th) proposed an amendment that would allow alderman to opt out of meeting the 20 percent obligation for their TIF district. Also, Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th) wanted to amend the ordinance in order to comply with state statues regarding TIF spending.

Fioretti recently explained that part of the opposition to Sweet Home Chicago stems from some not wanting affordable housing in their wards.

Ald. Burnett said that part of the reason the ordinance was moved back to committee was to make those amendments and thereby win the support of Smith and Thomas.

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