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Moreno Announces Chicago’s First Affordable TOD Project in Logan Square

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Rendering of the planned affordable TOD, 2031 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Transit-oriented development is a sensible way to build housing. Creating dense housing within a short walk of transit stations, without a lot of off-street parking makes it easier for more people to live without having to own a car. It leads to fewer newcomers bringing autos into neighborhoods, which reduces congestion and pollution. And, since garage spaces cost tens of thousands of dollars to build, it saves money for developers, which can result in lower condo prices and apartment rents.

Unfortunately, in Chicago TOD has become associated with luxury. Virtually all of the dense, parking-lite towers that have been constructed since the city’s TOD ordinance passed in 2013 have been high-end buildings in affluent or gentrifying neighborhoods.

In Logan Square, anti-displacement activists like Somos ("We Are") Logan Square have argued that new upscale TOD towers being built along Milwaukee Avenue near Blue Line stations will accelerate gentrification by encouraging other landlords to jack up rents. On the other hand, pro-TOD advocates such as the Center for Neighborhood Technology, which recently held a workshop on equitable TOD development, say that building more units in gentrifying neighborhoods can take pressure off the existing rental market.

For better or for worse, the poster boy for TOD in Chicago is 1st Ward Alderman Proco Joe Moreno, who sponsored the 2013 ordinance, which halved the city’s usual 1:1 parking ratio requirements for new developments within 600 feet of an ‘L’ or Metra station. City Council passed a beefed-up version of the ordinance last fall, which essentially waived the parking requirements completely for developments within a quarter mile of stations, a half mile on designated Pedestrian Streets.

Moreno, unlike most Chicago aldermen, insists that ten percent of the units in new developments in his Ward be on-site affordable housing, instead of allowing developers to take the cheaper route of paying into the city’s affordable housing fund, before he’ll approve zoning changes.

However, he’s come under fire from Somos Logan and other activists, who've held protests against upscale TOD developments like the Twin Towers and "L" on the 2200 block of North Milwaukee Avenue. They argue that to mitigate what they say will be the gentrifying effect of these projects, the developers should be forced to make 30 percent of the units affordable. And while the city defines affordable units as being affordable to those making 60 percent of the Chicago region's area median income, the activists say the threshold should be lowered to 30 percent, to make the units affordable to the community’s Latino families.

To promote these goals, Somos and several other groups are holding a protest and march today called “Our Neighborhood is NOT For Sale / El Barrio NO Se Vende: Rally Against Alderman Joe Moreno and Luxury Development.” It starts at 11:30 at Moreno’s office, 2740 West North, and is ending at the twin towers, 2923 North Milwaukee.

The activists are also calling for a moratorium on rezoning for new luxury developments “until we can establish policy for truly equitable development in our community.” They also want to see the Chicago Housing Authority’s surplus for Project Based Vouchers to get more affordable units in luxury developments.

Last month members of Somos Logan, Lifted Voices, and other groups barricaded Milwaukee to protest the Two Towers TOD project. Photo: Eric Cynic

So it’s probably not a coincidence that Moreno is holding his own event a couple hours later today to promote the city’s first 100-percent affordable TOD, an 88-unit, LGBT-friendly apartment building planned for the current Congress Pizza parking lot at 2031 North Milwaukee. From 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. the alderman is hosting an open house at the site to release more details about the plan as the first step in the community review and approval process for the proposal.

Moreno’s office didn’t respond to an interview request I made yesterday, but it’s safe to assume that, as an affordable TOD located a four-minute walk from the Blue Line’s Western stop, it will have far less than a 1:1 parking-to-units ratio.

It’s not yet clear exactly what aspects of the tower will be LGBT-friendly, but it will likely have some similarities to the Town Hall Apartments in Boystown, which provide affordable senior housing geared towards the LGBT community, including onsite social social service providers. Low-income LGBT individuals often face housing discrimination and estrangement from family members who might otherwise provide support.

The Logan development is called the John Pennycuff Memorial Apartments at Robert Castillo Plaza, named after two men who were partners in life and activism, advocating for LGBT rights as well as affordable housing in Logan Square, according to Moreno. The project will be funded by tax-increment financing dollars, plus Chicago Housing Authority money.

It’s great to see that the TOD ordinance is finally being used to create a building dedicated to transit-friendly affordable housing. The Pennycuff apartments will make it easy for residents of modest means to get around without having to rely on driving, which will further reduce their living expenses.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Somos Logan spokeswoman Justine Bayod told me yesterday. “We consider any affordable development in Logan Square a win for our community.” She said Somos will send representatives to the open house.

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The future site of the John Pennycuff Homes, 2031 N. Milwaukee. Image: Google Street View

Still, Bayod argued that the announcement and the timing of the open house represents a strategic move by Moreno in response to accusations that his TOD-friendly policies have promoted gentrification. “We do think this is due to the activism of groups like ours as well as the advocacy of [35th Ward alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa].” She said Ramirez-Rosa, whose ward borders Moreno, has been far more pro-active about fighting the displacement of low-income and working-class residents.

Bayod added that Somos feels the 88 affordable units in the new building and the dozens of affordable units being included in upscale developments elsewhere in the 1st Ward still represent a relatively small portion of new development, compared to the hundreds of high-end units that are in the works. “It’s still not enough,” she said

She also argued that Moreno didn’t do enough to fight the elimination of 925 affordable units as part of the redevelopment of the CHA’s Lathrop Homes housing projects. Moreno has called for replacing the units elsewhere on the North Side.

I asked Bayod why Somos is targeting Moreno, who makes developers to provide onsite affordable units, without criticizing Alderman Scott Waguespack of the neighboring 32nd Ward, who usually doesn’t require onsite affordable units. While Somos has held protests against the Twin Towers and “L” developments, which include affordable units, they’ve been silent about plans for a 44-unit TOD a few blocks southeast at 1920 North Milwaukee in Waguespack’s district. In January, Moreno scolded Waguespack about the fact that this project doesn’t include onsite affordable units.

“We’re sort of on the fence about Waguespack,” Bayod said. “Some things he’s done have been bad, but some have been good.” She noted that Waguespack has committed to requiring ten percent affordable units in the redevelopment of the Logan Square Mega Mall Site, 2500 North Milwaukee.

Bayod noted that Somos isn’t only targeting Moreno, but they’ve also protested Logan Square landlord Mark Fishman, who they say has dramatically hiked rents and unfairly evicted tenants in the neighborhood.

But she said her group does have a problem with the way Moreno does business, including his acceptance of tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the developers whose projects he’s approved. Unfortunately, that’s standard practice among most Chicago aldermen. She added that Moreno’s office has sent counter-protesters to their events.

Bayod also said that, while TOD developers have met with her group to at least listen to their requests for more affordability, Moreno has declined to do so. “If he’s so pro-affordability, why isn’t he talking to Somos?” she asked.

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