Chicago wrapping up ‘year of building and preserving affordable housing’

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Chicago Construction News staff writer

Mayor Brandon Johnson says his first year in office was a good one for building and repairing affordable housing across Chicago.

“In the past year, we have shifted from patchwork solutions to pioneering a sustainable, equitable framework for housing in Chicago, ensuring that our city thrives for all residents,” Johnson said. “These transformative efforts are not just about building units, but about building hope and homes for thousands of Chicagoans.”

He highlighted policies designed to speed up the development of affordable housing, including:

‘Cut the Tape’ executive order, which aims to cut down bureaucratic obstacles and foster more efficient collaboration between departments to speed up development.

A report released last month outlined over 100 recommendations for development process improvement including enhancements in internal and external communication, accountability, resource optimization, and the elimination of redundant processes – thus setting a clear roadmap for actionable steps to optimize development procedures and initiate progress.

The administration also introduced “10 Big Bets” – signature recommendations to improve processes. These include:

  • Cross-department coordination through the creation of a new Director of Process Improvement role in the Mayor’s Office
  • Policy improvements to enable expedited reviews for affordable housing projects
  • Zoning changes that include collaborating with City Council to eliminate minimum parking requirements and streamline special use permits, and more
  • Improve boards and commission processes by evaluating the feasibility of streamlining the Community Development Commission (CDC) and the Chicago Planning Commission (CPC)
  • Streamline design and construction requirements by revisiting the Department of Housing’s (DOH) Architectural and Technical Standards (ATS) manual
  • Reduce the number of design review meetings within the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) from three to one, and reassess the role of the Committee on Design
  • Eliminate Phase 1 and 2 environmental reviews as a requirement for sale of environmentally cleared City-owned parcels
  • Expand the finance pilot for cash advance payment options
  • Create an online “City wallet” account to improve options for customer billing, online payments, and debt check

Since the mayor’s election last May, 571 affordable units have been completed and another 488 under construction, 271 under rehab, and five ribbon cuttings.

“Under Mayor Johnson’s leadership, we’ve launched groundbreaking initiatives that have already made a significant impact on Chicago’s housing landscape,” said Department of Housing Commissioner Lissette Castañeda. “Our commitment is clear: to ensure every Chicagoan has access to affordable, quality housing as a fundamental right.”

Projects that have broken ground include Grace Manor Apartments, a $40 million project that is 100 percent affordable units in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. The ground floor will be utilized for community and commercial tenants, including health and wellness service providers, while the second through the sixth floors will include 65 affordable housing units with a unit mix of 31 one-bedroom and 34 two-bedrooms, complete with a rooftop deck on the sixth floor.

Also, 13 transformative affordable housing developments have received Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) through the city’s Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP).  Total development costs including public and private sources are estimated at $562 million.

The LIHTC projects will be joined by further development, such as the four recently announced LaSalle Street adaptive re-use projects within the Loop’s historic financial district to convert underutilized office buildings to housing.

“This year marks a historic shift in how we envision and execute urban development in Chicago, particularly with the revitalization of our downtown area,” said Department of Planning and Development Commissioner Ciere Boatright. “Through strategic investments in historic buildings and innovative planning, we are setting the stage for a city that not only grows but thrives inclusively, creating vibrant, accessible communities in the heart of Chicago.”

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