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Sweet Home Chicago Almost Home

In spite of objections from retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley, the Sweet Home Chicago ordinance passed both the Housing/Real Estate and Finance Committee by a 13-8 vote Monday, bringing chief sponsor Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) one step closer to adding affordable housing in his West-Side ward.

“Alderman Burnett is the best sponsor I have ever worked with on any project,” said Julie Dworkin, director of policy for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), one of 12 partners in the Sweet Home Chicago coalition. “He never gives up, no matter how uncomfortable it gets.”

“My stance on the issue is basic,” said Burnett of the ordinance he wrote back in March that is co-sponsored by 26 aldermen. “There’s a problem, there’s a need, and we have these funds that are suppose to help the community, let’s use it.”

If passed before the city council, spending on affordable housing will jump from a current level of 4 percent of annual TIF revenues, about $2 million of the $495 million collected in 2009, to 20 percent, or nearly $100 million. The new funding would be used to build new developments as well as buy and rehab properties left vacant or decaying due to foreclosure.

Neighborhoods with high concentrations of foreclosures, sinking property values and elevated crime rates would receive immediate relief. Ald. Burnett’s 27th Ward, spanning the West Loop and Near North Side of Chicago, is one of these areas.

With an average of 30 to 50 crimes reported on a daily basis in the 27th Ward, one of the highest in the city according to, and 76 foreclosures, or one in every 216 housing units foreclosed on in just the month of October according to Realty Trac, the 27th Ward needs help.

“There is a tremendous need in this area,” said Louis Padial, community director of the Bickerdike Redevelopment Group, which has built both the Rosa Parks Apartments and the Harold Washington Co-Op affordable housing developments in the ward representing 1,000 units. “We are flooded with applications.”

When the partially TIF funded, $27.2 million Rosa Parks Apartments’ leasing office began to accept applications in West Humboldt Park last year, over 5,000 were received in just one day for 95 available units, said Padial. And the types of people coming were from all backgrounds and neighborhoods, he said.

“We had people from Wicker Park, Logan Square, Bucktown, areas you don’t traditionally think of,” said Padial. “It was an eye-opener.”

Padial said the Bickerdike Redevelopment Group wants to continue pushing for more development in the 27th Ward not just because of the need, but also because of the vast amounts of vacant lots sitting empty.

“The waiting list is huge,” said Padial of the application for current developments in the area. “We can buy this property for little to no cost and build on lots that have been empty for over 30 years; think of how many we could help.”

Michael Schnell, broker with @Properties who leases and sells units in the 18-acre Parkside of Old Town affordable housing development, where Ald. Burnett’s childhood home of Cabrini-Green once stood, agrees.

With an anticipated completion of 780 units by 2014, Schnell said the Parkside of Old Town is leading his office in number of contracts and leases in comparison to other developments all over the city.

“It’s a stellar location,” said Schnell of the project’s success. “And the affordable housing component [which Burnett requires for all development in his ward] doesn’t hurt.”

The ordinance is expected to come before the city council for a full vote on Dec. 8, with Ald. Burnett and the Sweet Home Chicago Coalition committed to seeing it pass.

“We need help,” said Burnett. “We’ve been working on this issue for over 10 years and it’s not going anywhere and only getting worse.”

“Everyone deserves a decent place to live.”

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