This past week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced his support for a bill that would require developers operating in buzzing neighborhoods to offer more affordable apartment options. While the measure and the issue are certainly important ones to keep front of mind in today’s Chicago, the bill could serve as another hollow pledge from a mayor that has repeatedly catered to the upper-class citizenry that perpetuates the gentrification the bill is supposed to quell.
Along with West Loop Ald. Walter Burnett and Logan Square Ald. Joe Moreno, Emanuel is set to propose the bill on September 8 and could affect a similar bill introduced to levy heavy fees to developers who demolished buildings along The 606 Trail. That measure has had a hard time being enforced thus far, inspiring several protests.
“Access to affordable housing is critical to Chicago’s legacy as one of the world’s most livable big cities, especially as the real estate market undergoes unprecedented neighborhood development,” Emanuel said. “This initiative will create more affordable units in targeted areas while helping the city to assess the most effective ways of meeting neighborhood affordable housing goals.”
While the sentiment of the bill shows the city’s heart may be in the right place for once, it also operates as a smokescreen for those at the top. Currently, developers building in certain areas of the city are required to provide a certain percentage of affordable housing. It’s a sensical rule that should in theory create diverse neighborhoods with an array of price points. Instead, a loophole makes it cheaper for developers to pay a fee for not adding the affordable units rather than lose the money on reduced rent. So, most often, buildings go up without any affordable housing at all. In places like Wicker Park, Logan Square and the West Loop rent has skyrocketed in recent years as developers have raced up and down Milwaukee and Randolph building Starbucks at a break-neck pace.
Compounding the issue here is those involved in the measure: the aldermen and mayor. While the residents that voted them into power are systematically moved out, they must either kowtow to the incoming populations or fight back to possible political failure. In Chicago, everything is governed by politics and gentrification most certainly isn’t an outlier in that sense. Walter Burnett’s 27th Ward extends from the west side to the West Loop and all the way up into parts of Old Town and Lincoln Park. It makes him essentially, the unofficial second mayor of the city. Taking a look at the map of his territory shows a road map of gentrification. There’s no telling what kickbacks could be in store, but Burnett is a regular at the increasingly swanky buildings dotting the West Loop and creeping towards his office at Madison and Western Ave.
So, while it’s nice that Mayor Emanuel and city leaders have gentrification on their minds, this latest offering is little more than petty lip service. Until the everyday citizen of the city can find a way to line politicians pockets on par with the upper crust, it seems the practices that have gotten them there will continue.
Listen in to MildSauce Radio Tuesday, September 6 at 6 PM CST to hear me and WGCI’s DJ Moondawg discuss this subject even further.