Yesterday, the Chicago Plan Commission approved River North-based developer Vequity’s proposal for a new transit-oriented development in Bucktown. This puts the plan for a six-story building with 44 units and ten car parking spaces at 1920 N. Milwaukee Ave. on track for approval by the full City Council. However, it didn’t happen without a heated debate about the lack of on-site affordable housing in the project.
The architect, David Brininstool of Brininstool and Lynch, seemed to succeed in persuading the commissioners that the building would successfully reactive the southeast corner of Western and Milwaukee Avenues, currently a shuttlered title loan store. He argued that the new tower would “celebrate the corner” with more foot traffic and transit-oriented retail. But the developer doesn’t plan to include required affordable units in the building, and the developer wasn’t able to convince all the members of the commission that this decision is justified.
According to the city’s affordable housing law, developers that request a zoning change or receive a subsidy from the city, including tax-increment financing, are required to provide ten percent of the units – 20 percent if they get a subsidy – at an affordable sales price or monthly rent. Those details are managed by the city and adjusted annually based on Census figures, and represent what should be affordable to an individual or family of different sizes earning 60 percent or less of the region’s median income.
The developer can either build the affordable units on-site, pay a fee into the city’s low-income housing trust fund to build the affordable units elsewhere, or do a combination of the two. Before the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance was revised last year, simply paying into the trust fund was always an option, unless the local alder insisted on on-site affordable units.
Now, however, developers must build at least a quarter of the require affordable units on-site, or else in a different building within one mile of the development getting the zoning change or subsidy. The other three-quarters of the affordable units can be bought out for a fee per unit. The fee depends on the building’s location.
Vequity, like all of the other developers that had their projects approved at yesterday’s plan commission meeting, applied for approval before the new affordable housing ordinance took effect. They’ve opted to pay $100,000 into the trust fund for each of the five affordable-designated units they’re not building, a move that was condoned by local alder Scott Waguespack (32nd).