The first time I heard of the Sweet Home Chicago ordinance was on a chilly December day in 2009. A large group of protesters gathered outside of 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti's office on a very chilly day, demanding that Tax Increment Financing District dollars be used to fund affordable housing.
It was so cold as we interviewed housing advocates and officials that I remember Micah Maidenberg's teeth chattering. Why do groups of angry citizens always gather in cold weather?
Nearly a year and a half later, with slightly better weather, that ordinance finally passed. After numerous legislative battles, the ordinance is in slightly different shape than back then. Still, housing advocates are calling the measure, passed by the Chicago City Council, a victory for affordable housing in Chicago.
What's changed? Get the scoop.
The original ordinance called for a pretty big piece of the TIF funding pie: 20 percent of all TIF dollars collected would be set aside to use for affordable housing. Mayor Richard M. Daley and his allies on the council were not too pleased. TIF dollars have been called the mayor's secret piggy bank, and how would you react if someone wanted to smash your piggy bank and make off with 20 percent of your pennies?
At one point in the struggle, two ordinances appeared--one the actual Sweet Home Chicago ordinance, and a black swan ordinance introduced by Alderman Patrick O'Connor that looked nice on paper but was quite a bit weaker than the original.
But in all this year and a half struggle, one thing has not changed: the need for affordable housing. The Chicago Reporter recently found that half of all homeowners and renters are paying more than they can afford for housing, prompting our Publisher Alden Loury to ask: If not now, when?
The ordinance passed yesterdy will likely create more affordable housing, but perhaps not on the scale originally envisioned by the community groups supporting Sweet Home Chicago. Instead of setting aside a chunk of TIF dollars for housing, the ordinance passed today allows Chicago citizens to apply for TIF funding to help them purchase and rehab vacant housing in the city. Homebuyers and developers could receive up to 50 percent of the purchase price and rehab cost if they agree to make at least half of the units affordable to those making less than the median income.
A victory? For sure. But backers of the original ordinance say they're going to continue to fight for larger guarantees of city money spent on affordable housing.
The thing I found most interesting is how a coalition of community groups took an ordinance from dream to slightly-altered-but-still-palatable reality. When I first covered this ordinance at that freezing-cold rally, it seemed like a long-shot. The coalition waged a battle, getting alderman after alderman to sign on, and kept pushing, even when the mayor and his allies were dead set against it.
Perhaps even more profound than any affordable housing gain is the fact that a law envisioned by the people, rather than politicians, went from idea to reality. In a city known for its indifference to its citizens, that's a victory that city leaders won't likely forget.
Photo credit: William Ross