Open Meeting Act thwarts affordable housing ordinance

Sweet Home Chicago measure would set aside city money

January 13, 2011

An affordable housing measure in Chicago City Council got delayed again – this time for an open government violation.

Ald. Walter Burnett had sought a council vote Thursday on Sweet Home Chicago. The measure would designate 20 percent of tax increment finance dollars, of TIFs, toward affordable housing and rehabbing foreclosed properties. But Ald. Ed Burke objected to releasing the measure for a vote because Burnett did not give 48-hours notice, per Illinois’ Open Meetings Act. Mayor Richard Daley also said state law needed to be followed. Burnett countered that city code stipulates there has to be 24-hours notice.

“I think we’re playing a game of chess. Unfortunately, we’re playing a game of chess with peoples’ livelihoods, with peoples’ housing,” Burnett said. “All we’re asking for is a piece of the pie of the TIF money so we can be able to acquire some of these foreclosed properties and build affordable housing in the city of Chicago.”
 
A council roll-call vote backed Burke and Daley.
 
Sweet Home Chicago has languished in city council for more than a year. Opponents had sought to weaken the measure by lowering the percentage of TIF funds that would be applied to the program or, alternatively, stripping the measure of mandates for developers.
 
Burnett said there would’ve been enough votes to pass the language on Thursday. “Do you think we did not have the votes?” he asked. “Why would you think they would not let us bring it up for a vote if we didn’t have the votes?”
 
Daley said he has no opinion on Sweet Home Chicago and didn’t block the vote for political reasons.
 
“I didn’t stop it. When someone brings up the violation of the Open Meetings Act, you have to respond to it. You cannot be silent on it,” Daley said.
 
During the council meeting, Ald. Joe Moore cited instances when the city council took votes with only 24-hours notice. He said, strictly speaking, aldermen didn’t give enough notice before they overturned one of his high-profile ordinances: the city’s ban on foie gras.