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Mayor Brandon Johnson and members of Johnson’s transition committee look on as Sendy Soto, co-chair of the housing subcommittee, discusses the newly-released Mayor’s Transition Committee Report during a news conference in 2023.

Ashlee Rezin

Chicago’s first chief homelessness officer named

A leader in Mayor Brandon Johnson’s transition team was named Chicago’s first-ever chief homelessness officer on Monday.

Sendy Soto, a former official with the city’s Department of Housing and the co-chair of Johnson’s housing transition committee, will assume the role next week.

“My ask to each of you is simple: Share your ideas and hold me accountable,” Soto said Monday during the re-opening of an affordable housing complex in the Gold Coast. She officially starts next week.

“It is an immense honor to undertake this vital role on your behalf and gaining and keeping your trust is important to me.”

Among her first tasks will be developing a five-year plan in partnership with other city agencies to address the city’s homelessness crisis. But Soto did not offer up any specifics on how she would handle the issue.

Johnson created the position in October. It is funded by a grant from the Chicago Funders Together to End Homelessness.

Soto was a head of Johnson’s transition housing committee last year, which released a report during the summer that included recommendations for addressing and preventing homelessness. It set a goal of putting Chicago “on a path” to being a city “where housing is a human right,” though one of the steps — increase the real estate transfer tax and use the proceeds to address homelessness — was derailed when the Bring Chicago Home referendum was voted down last month.

Soto was also the managing deputy commissioner for the Housing Department from 2020 to 2022 and she currently is the senior director of community impact at The Chicago Community Trust.

Soto starts the job after Bring Chicago Home was defeated during last month’s primary election. A key part of Johnson’s progressive agenda, the referendum would have increased the real estate transfer tax to generate about $100 million a year to help the city’s homeless population.

“Sendy has demonstrated an incredible amount of leadership, centering her work around racial equality and making sure that the outcomes of programs reach those who are most impacted,” Johnson said. “She will foster greater coordination among city departments with stakeholders across the city to provide leadership and partnership for the work that’s ahead.”

Soto’s appointment was announced during the re-opening of the renovated Lawson House, a 24-story Art Deco building in the Gold Coast built in 1931. The building now offers studio apartments, a rooftop terrace, retail space, apartment amenities — including a gym and laundry room — and on-site social services for tenants.

The $128 million renovation modernized and preserved the affordable housing units long offered at the building, which used to be the Lawson YMCA. The units were converted from 583 single rooms to 406 studio apartments with private kitchens and bathrooms — 25% of which are fully ADA-accessible. Three more apartments are available for on-site staff.

The developers behind the building at 30 W. Chicago Ave. committed to preserve some of the building’s units for households at or below 15% and 60% of the area’s median income for at least 50 years, according to the city.

Of the units, 322 apartments will be rented out through subsidies: 122 for the Chicago Low Income Housing-Trust rental subsidies, 100 for Chicago Housing Authority’s Section 8 vouchers and 100 for rental assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“The Gold Coast is not just for those with gold,” said Tracy Scott, CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority.. “Lawson House is another example of CHA’s vision of a thriving city where every neighborhood has quality, affordable housing and everyone feels welcome.”

Of the 100 CHA vouchers for the Lawson House, 30 will be set aside for military veterans, Scott said.

The building is owned and was redeveloped by the Holsten Real Estate Development Corp. and Holsten Human Capital Development. Public funding for the renovation came from the city’s Housing Department, Chicago Housing Authority and the Illinois Housing Development Authority.

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