On One Year Anniversary, Mayor Lori Lightfoot Pushes Forward With Affordable Housing Plans

Mayor Lori Lightfoot
Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over virtual city council meeting on her one-year anniversary as mayor. WBEZ
Mayor Lori Lightfoot
Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over virtual city council meeting on her one-year anniversary as mayor. WBEZ

On One Year Anniversary, Mayor Lori Lightfoot Pushes Forward With Affordable Housing Plans

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot presided over a virtual City Council meeting Wednesday, a decidedly different venue from her inauguration one year ago at the packed Wintrust Arena.

The mayor came into office promising to fight corruption in City Hall and alluded to that mandate at the end of the meeting.

“All of us were brought together by our city's voters, our families, our residents, our communities and business owners who are desperate for change in a way our beloved city was run, in a way we conducted business, and above all, how the lines of opportunity investment were drawn,” Lightfoot said.

But the mayor and all 50 aldermen are now fighting the global coronavirus pandemic while trying to advance legislative priorities. Wednesday’s agenda included several measures directly related to COVID-19, but others dealt with pre-pandemic priorities.

Here’s what else happened at the May City Council meeting.

Proposal from Mayor sent to legislative purgatory

In a rare move, aldermen succeeded in sending a renter protection ordinance introduced by Lightfoot to the place where legislation goes to die in City Hall.

The proposal would require landlords to give tenants at least three months notice before ending or not renewing a lease. Currently, landlords must provide a 30-day notice. The live stream feed cut out as it was being introduced, so it was unclear who requested that the proposal go to the Committee on Committees and Rules on Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Lightfoot said she was undeterred.

“I don't think what the procedural move today derails it or delays it one bit,” Lightfoot said. “This is an important measure to make sure that renters have the kind of notice they need beyond 30 days to be able to organize their life. I can't imagine what the possible objection would be from aldermen to that.”

No employer penalties during pandemic for worker scheduling violations

Chicago businesses will be spared penalties for failing to give hourly employees their schedule at least two weeks in advance. Aldermen approved a measure that would delay enforcement of the so-called “Fair Work Week” ordinance passed last year.

Championed by labor groups as a way to provide hourly workers more flexibility, the ordinance was scheduled to take effect July 1st. That’s also when the city’s minimum wage increase is scheduled to jump to $14 an hour.

The amendment still requires employers to give hourly workers notice of their schedules at least two weeks in advance, but the businesses won’t face litigation for six months if they fail to do so.

“Employers are just as vulnerable in this pandemic as the workers,” said Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th Ward, who owns Ann Sather Restaurants in Lakeview. “To introduce these regulations and wage increases at this time is the wrong time.”

Tunney voted against the ordinance and was joined by Ald. Michele Smith, 43rd Ward; Brendan Reilly, 42nd Ward; Brian Hopkins, 2nd Ward; and Anthony Beale, 9th Ward.

Hourly workers who’ve been fired during the coronavirus outbreak for failing to show up to work because they were sick or maxed out their allotted sick time will get the ability to report their employers. A separate anti-retaliation ordinance sponsored by the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection passed. If an investigation by BACP finds an employee was unfairly let go because they were sick or self-isolating could face up to $1,000 a day per offense.

Chicago’s new second tallest building? Tribune Tower East

A new skyscraper is set to rise from the banks of the Chicago River downtown with aldermen signing off on the developers’ construction plans.

The 1,422 foot Tribune Tower East will become the city’s second tallest building, according to the Department of Planning and Development, knocking Trump International Hotel and Tower down to third tallest. The new skyscraper will be built east of the historic Tribune Tower on Michigan Avenue. There will be 564 apartments and 200 hotel rooms.

“It’s going to change the skyline,” said the mayor’s floor leader Gilbert Villegas, 36th Ward.

Several aldermen praised downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly, whose ward will include the new tower. Reilly said he worked for two years to get the developers to agree to neighborhood demands and demands from aldermen who want to see more women and minority contractors benefit from the project. Some aldermen still voted no because they do not believe there are enough safeguards to ensure jobs and contracts will go to diverse businesses.

“Our eyes will be on this project, the commitment will be met, or there will be significant consequences,” Lightfoot said.

Coach houses, granny flats coming soon?

On Wednesday, Lightfoot introduced another long-awaited affordable housing proposal that would allow people to build small apartments above garages or in basements. The ordinance is aimed at providing additional affordable housing options, particularly in neighborhoods that are low density with mostly single family homes.

Chicago Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara said the so-called accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, are “an almost invisible way to increase moderate cost rental opportunities across the city that fit in with the way a neighborhood already looks.”

The ADUs, also sometimes dubbed granny flats or coach houses, would be permitted in all but two of the city’s zoning classifications. The proposed ordinance outlines rules and regulations for building ADUs, like for example, size can be no more than 700 square feet.

North Branch scrap yard shut down temporarily, neighbors want permanent closure

In the wake of a Monday explosion at a scrap yard near Lincoln Park, a number of residents spoke to aldermen about permanently closing the site owned by General Iron.

City officials ordered the site to be temporarily shut down after the explosion, but a letter from Building Commissioner Judy Frydland to General Iron said the company can conduct “routine maintenance” at the location along the North Branch of the Chicago River.

Ald. Brian Hopkins, whose ward includes the General Iron scrapyard, introduced a resolution on Wednesday that would close the business until the COVID-19 pandemic is over. His measure would keep the site closed until phase five of the city’s reopening plan.

Legal settlements worth $3.3 million approved

Aldermen are routinely asked to approve financial settlements reached by city lawyers with people who have sued the city. Often these legal settlements involve police misconduct and on Wednesday, there were three such cases totaling $3.3 million.

Several aldermen voted against the smallest of the three settlements granting $300,000 to Pierre Green, who spent four years behind bars and in his lawsuit, claimed Chicago Police “fabricated” evidence. The settlement ultimately passed 33 to 16.

The largest of the three settlements will award $2.25 million to a disabled man shot by a police sergeant in 2017. Lightfoot promised to reform the police department and reduce these costly settlements, but in her 2020 spending plan, she more than doubled the budget for legal settlements.

Becky Vevea and Claudia Morell cover city politics for WBEZ. Follow them @beckyvevea and @claudiamorell.