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An Action Plan for Affordable Housing

by Worldchanging Chicago local blogger, Patrick Rollens:

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True affordable housing -- modest units that rent for less than $750 -- are few and far between in Chicago. According to the Urban Land Institute (ULI), just 353,000 of the city's 2 million residences fell into the category at the end of 2005. And a new report from the firm suggests that the city's affordable housing portfolio will continue to drop by about 38,000 units by 2020 -- while demand increases steadily.

In light of this, the ULI collaborated with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and more than 100 civic groups to produce The Preservation Compact: A Rental Housing Strategy for Cook County. The ultimate aim of the plan is to preserve and strengthen 75,000 residential units "that might otherwise be lost to condominium conversion, demolition, or rising costs," as well as encourage sustainable development of more affordable housing units.

The Preservation Compact comes at a time when foreclosures are increasing sharply as the subprime mortgage market implodes, which affects many low-income Chicagoans who became homeowners in the last five years. From a supplemental report entitled The State of Rental Housing in Cook County (1.3 MB PDF download):

If recent trends in the Cook County housing market continue, the supply of affordable rental units will decline by 38,000 from 2005–2020 to a level of only 315,000. Over the same period of time, it is expected that demand for affordable rentals will rise by 34,000 to more than 500,000 units. The net result in 2020 will be more than 185,000 households seeking, but unable to find, affordable rental housing in Cook County.

The Preservation Compact Action Plan calls for six keystone initiatives to stave off the coming crisis.

■ A Preservation Fund to increase capital flow to properties at risk of being lost from the affordable rental market.

■ An Interagency Council, composed of governmental partners key to preservation, to improve coordination and information flow to preserve at-risk properties.

■ A Rental Housing Data Clearinghouse and early warning system for buildings facing expiring subsidies or otherwise at risk of leaving the affordable rental market.

■ An Energy Savers Program to cut operating costs for owners of affordable rental properties.

■ A Chicago-area Rental Housing Alliance to help tenants seek new ownership in at-risk buildings.

■ Lowered property taxes on multifamily rental buildings to bring them in line with those on single-family homes and reduce the burden on both owners and tenants.

This, of course, comes as the Chicago Transit Authority's budget crisis reaches its tipping point. The fare increases threatened by the cash-strapped CTA would put even more strain on low-income populations in Chicago. The Preservation Compact is a far-reaching plan to be sure, but as with so many things worldchanging, the alternative is untenable.

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