Housing chief pushes affordability rules for Woodlawn

Chicago’s housing commissioner said Thursday the agency is finishing work on an ordinance to protect and expand affordable housing in Woodlawn, testing ideas that could be applied in other neighborhoods. One idea could include restricting landlords’ rights to sell larger apartment buildings to a buyer they choose.

Commissioner Marisa Novara said the proposal is designed to help Woodlawn cope as the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park and other outside investments affect the community. She said it will build on work of a housing advisory group formed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot.


Novara said the city can have a particular impact on Woodlawn because 30% of its housing carries long-term guarantees it will remain affordable under legal standards and 25% of the community’s vacant land is city-owned. “This will fulfill a commitment by the mayor to guide inclusive growth” in Woodlawn, Novara said.

One part of the ordinance would allow tenants to block the sale of larger apartment buildings to a for-profit buyer. In a proposal similar to a city ordinance to preserve single-room-occupancy residences, tenants threatened with displacement in a sale could form an association and seek a deal with a buyer who will keep the units affordable. It would amount to a tenants’ right to match someone else’s offer.

Novara declined to discuss specifics of the ordinance, which is still being drafted.


It will be discussed with community leaders Jan. 30 during an open house at Hyde Park Academy High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., starting at 5 p.m.

Other provisions call for programs that would require city expenditures. They would establish financing to help building owners repair units and keep them affordable, and grants for homeowners to fund repairs. Novara would not discuss funding amounts.

The ordinance also would set guidelines for the sale of city-owned vacant land, and require that developers getting city land meet local hiring requirements.


Novara said aldermen whose wards include Woodlawn, Leslie Hairston (5th) and Jeanette Taylor (20th) have been kept up to date about the ordinance.

Hairston said she looks forward to the final draft. “They were working on cleaning some things up. It appears to include all of the things we talked about,” she said. Taylor could not be reached.

Not included in the proposed ordinance, Novara said, is a tougher setaside of affordable housing for new development. Current city rules require that 10% of new housing be deemed affordable, and up to 20% in certain areas.


Novara said the overall affordable housing rules are a subject for a task force Lightfoot has created. The task force is expected to issue a report midyear.