A trolley wound through neighborhoods on Chicago’s Northwest Side, passing wide boulevards and trendy bars, two-flats and glassy luxury apartment high rises as well as foreclosed homes and careworn bungalows.
The hosts of the tour invited a special guest — new city Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara — to vividly show the competing forces in Logan Square, Hermosa and Belmont Cragin.
Affordable housing advocates from LUCHA, Spanish Coalition for Housing, Center for Changing Lives, Northwest Side Housing Center, Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation and Logan Square Neighborhood Association organized the Tuesday trolley trip.
Organizers wanted to “share both projects that are underway but potential projects we’d like to do as well as new developments in the community,” said James Rudyk, executive director of the Northwest Side Housing Center.
“We’re looking for her to be a listener and a learner,” Rudyk said.
The first project they showed Novara was an empty parking lot next to the Logan Square Blue Line entrance. Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation wants to build an apartment building with 100 percent affordable units. The project would use the city’s Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) ordinance, which allows developers to reduce the number of parking spaces to promote walkability and create a greener neighborhood. But as WBEZ has reported, much of the TOD construction in Logan Square caters toward childless, higher-earning households.
The weight of gentrification and Latino displacement put affordable housing in crisis mode in the neighborhood. The Logan Square Neighborhood Association says the community has a high number of demolitions and a spiking median home price.
Board member Raymond Barrera said there’s a way to slow down that demolition trend: charge developers a fee each time they tear down existing housing via a pilot ordinance adjacent to the 606, an elevated greenway trail on the city’s Northwest Side.
Resident and activist concerns aren’t unwarranted. The Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University measures housing displacement pressure and most of the risky neighborhoods are on the Northwest Side. Low-income renters and seniors are vulnerable. Housing near the 606 trail has some of the fastest appreciating housing in the city.
On the trolley, the messages elevated were less segregation, more affordability, stopping gentrification and providing property tax relief. The tour didn’t just highlight the problems, but offered ideas such as a community controlled land trust so low- and moderate-income families aren’t displaced from homes because of soaring property taxes.
Another idea calls for taking surplus revenue from tax increment financing (TIF) districts to incentivize landlords to not raise their rents. If they receive a grant to fix their one- to four-unit buildings, they promise to keep the rents at an affordable price.
After three hours of touring, and stopping for a bite to eat at Bonita’s, a Mexican restaurant on Armitage, the trolley returned to Logan Square. Novara listened and took notes.
She said one of her first steps is to implement a housing policy team for her office by September.
“I have a page-long list from just my short time there of policy decisions that have come up,” Novara said. “As impatient as I know people are to get their agendas moving, as impatient as I am, we’re going to need a little time to work through these issues together. But I am absolutely committed that in the time that we have that we’re able to make some real changes on how this department listens, how we make decisions."