Aldermen slam Daley administration in affordable housing flap

Walter Burnett: 'I feel like I'm playing with some rotten kids.'

April 11, 2011

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(WBEZ/file)
Ald. Walter Burnett represents Chicago's 27th Ward.

Some Chicago aldermen lashed out at the Daley administration Monday for putting the brakes on an affordable housing bill, while pushing the mayor's own proposal.

Ald. Walter Burnett from the West Side's 27th Ward, has long championed what's called Sweet Home Chicago, a proposed ordinance to require some economic development money be spent on affordable housing. His efforts stalled in negotiations with the Daley administration. Then the mayor put forth his own plan - to give people some money to buy and rehab vacant houses.

Daley's proposal came up in the City Council Finance Committee on Monday morning. Though Burnett says he supports the goal, he got angry. The alderman told Daley's staff that he feels like he's "playing with some rotten kids."

"The other ordinance had a lot of aldermen signed on to it," Burnett said. "So you're just like, 'Forget what you all signed on to. We're just going to push this, and you all just take this and do it.'"

Ald. Berny Stone from the North Side's 50th Ward expressed other concerns with the content of the bill, while also complaining about transparency.

"If this is your answer to Sweet Home Chicago, you should have met with us, should have met with Walter [Burnett]," Stone said. "And we'd have sat down and we should have figured it out. [Don't] try and slip it through on a Finance [Committee] agenda. I'm sorry. This stinks."

Even the chair of the committee seemed to be frustrated with the administration's handling of the issue. Ald. Ed Burke from the Southwest Side's 14th Ward joked that it is a "time honored process around here" for someone to "take your idea and then they rework it and it becomes somebody else's idea."

A city official testified to the committee that the mayor's vacant building proposal was not intended to be a response to the Sweet Home Chicago plan.

"We have a big vacant home problem out there in many, many neighborhoods as you all know," said William Eager, deputy commissioner at the Department of Housing and Economic Development. "We're simply trying to come up with additional tools to deal with that. This is one."

Regardless, the criticism from Burnett and others took hold. When Burke asked if any alderman had a motion, everyone sat silent, leaving the mayor's bill stuck in committee.