A proposed landmark designation for Emmitt Till’s childhood home in Woodlawn, stronger protections for undocumented residents and anti-gentrification efforts await Chicago aldermen Wednesday morning for their first full City Council meeting of 2021.
Though Mayor Lori Lightfoot has had her hands full juggling the city’s vaccine rollout and contentious negotiations with the Chicago Teachers’ Union over her plan for a return to in-person learning, there’s nothing on Wednesday’s agenda that will address either matter.
Instead, aldermen will consider a grab bag of development-related items, including two administration-led zoning changes that seek to reverse an affordable housing problem in gentrifying neighborhoods — the conversion of two-, three- and four- flat residential buildings into single-family homes, or mini-mansions.
Push for anti-gentrification efforts in Pilsen, around The 606
According to the city’s Department of Planning and Development, two- to four-unit buildings make up about a third of Chicago’s housing stock and are “a major source of naturally occurring affordable housing.”
Between 2010 and 2016, the city lost 20,000 units in these buildings as developers and families purchased and converted these multi-tenant buildings into single family homes.
The pair of zoning proposals would impact two neighborhoods hit particularly hard by this trend: Pilsen on the Southwest Side, and the residential blocks surrounding The 606 elevated trail on the Northwest Side.
If approved by the full City Council, the plan restricts these conversions based on the housing on a given block.
For Pilsen, at least half of the block would have to be made up of single-family homes for a conversion to take place. Near The 606, single-family homes would have to make up a majority of the block. The proposals fell on a divided roll call vote in the Zoning Committee indicating there could be opposition again on Wednesday.
Landmarking the Emmett Till home
Two proposed landmark designations are also slated for a vote.
This includes the two-story, brick home in Woodlawn that was once the home of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Black teen who was kidnapped, brutally tortured and murdered in 1955 while visiting family in Mississippi.
The city’s Landmarks Commission gave preliminary approval to the designation of his childhood home, citing his murder as a catalyst for the Civil Rights movement, and the home as a symbol of the Great Migration of African Americans fleeing the Jim Crow South to northern cities like Chicago.
The other landmark designation awaiting approval is the Illinois Bell Building in downtown Chicago. Canadian developer Onni Group applied for the landmark designation in addition to applying for a special tax break that will save them nearly $70 million in property taxes over a 12-year period.
Strengthening Chicago’s “sanctuary city” status
Aldermen are also set to consider a long fought for change to the city’s Welcoming City Ordinance, the city policy that has long affirmed Chicago’s status as a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants.
Earlier this month, a newly formed City Council committee on immigrant rights approved changes that would strengthen the policy by removing a loophole that allowed local law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement agencies in alleged criminal cases. It would also mandates cooperation between the Chicago Police Department and undocumented residents who are victims of crimes.
It took a working group five years to get the ordinance to this point. But not everyone on the City Council supported the creation of this new immigrant-focused committee, so full council support remains uncertain.
Vacant Jefferson Park firehouse sale and neighborhood controversy
A more controversial plan — based on the vocal public opposition heard in the Housing Committee earlier this month — is a land sale in Jefferson Park.
Aldermen will consider the sale of the former firehouse near the Jefferson Park Transit Center that’s been vacant for eight years. Ambrosia Homes would pay the city $208,000 for the property so they can convert the space into a craft brewery with apartments above.
The operators of the neighboring Copernicus Center, an event space that hosts major festivals like the annual Taste of Polonia, submitted a bid with a similar development plan. They sued the city after their plan was rejected.
Claudia Morell covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @claudiamorell.