Illinois Lawmakers Strengthen A Law That Requires Some Cities To Submit Affordable Housing Plans

empty boardroom
An empty boardroom is pictured. The Illinois Affordable Housing Appeals board currently has just one member, but that could change soon. Recent revisions to state law require the board's vacancies to be filled within 90 days. Jo_Johnston/Pixabay
empty boardroom
An empty boardroom is pictured. The Illinois Affordable Housing Appeals board currently has just one member, but that could change soon. Recent revisions to state law require the board's vacancies to be filled within 90 days. Jo_Johnston/Pixabay

Illinois Lawmakers Strengthen A Law That Requires Some Cities To Submit Affordable Housing Plans

Gail Schechter will no longer be the lone member on the Illinois Housing Appeals board.

A sweeping affordable housing bill, recently passed by Illinois state lawmakers, has strengthened the Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act (AHPAA). That law requires cities, with at least 1,000 residents and with less than 10% affordable housing, to submit affordable housing plans to the state. The law also allows for affordable housing developers to appeal the decisions of municipalities who reject their affordable housing proposals. Those appeals are heard by the Illinois Housing Appeals board.

The AHPAA, originally passed in 2003, is intended to encourage affordable housing, but resistance is rampant. As of October 2020, the Illinois Housing Development Authority identified 46 municipalities that met the law’s requirements. At that time, fewer than half had submitted plans or indicated that they intended to do so. Some municipalities cited home rule as the reason why they didn’t comply. The revised law says that doesn’t matter anymore. It gives the Illinois Attorney General enforcement powers, including seeking court relief, if the municipalities continue to flout the law.

Other changes to the law require a public hearing on proposed local government affordable housing plans prior to approval and for appeals board vacancies to be filled within 90 days.

“Home rule” gives municipalities the right to self-govern with broad local authority — even if it conflicts with the state. Between towns invoking home rule and an appeals board with no teeth, many have questioned whether the AHPAA is working. The law’s revisions are lauded in affordable housing circles.

“I am really thrilled. I didn’t expect that anything would happen,” said Schechter, executive director of Housing Opportunities & Maintenance for the Elderly. She said communities doing affordable plans has always been the spirit of the law.

“It makes no sense to say there’s an affordable housing crisis in the state of Illinois but then only put the burden of solving that crisis on the smallest communities that don’t have home rule. That makes absolutely no sense,” Schecter said.

Affordable housing faces barriers in communities with higher land costs. The revised AHPAA offer property tax incentives for affordable rental housing.

Schecter said the next hurdle is getting units built — not just submitting plans. She said deadlines are needed for when municipalities must turn in their plans and by when they must achieve the 10% affordable housing requirement.

Natalie Moore is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. You can follow her on Twitter at @natalieymoore.