Emanuel’s Plan for Pilsen and Little Village Doesn’t Go Far Enough to Prevent Displacement

The Little Village gateway on 26th Street. Photo: Jeff Zoline
The Little Village gateway on 26th Street. Photo: Jeff Zoline

Earlier this week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, along with aldermen Daniel Solis, Ricardo Muñoz and George Cardenas. released a new preservation plan for Little Village and Pilsen. Pilsen particularly has seen a sharp decline in its Latinx population over the last ten years. According to data from the American Community Survey and research released in 2016 by University of Illinois at Chicago professor John Betancur and grad student Youngjun Kim, more than 10,300 Hispanic people had left Pilsen since 2000.

The city plan outlines varying strategies, from an affordable requirements ordinance pilot for a 7.2 square-mile area of Little Village and Pilsen, to the landmark designation of certain parts of 18th Street and Blue Island Avenue, along with other streets.

It’s a breath of fresh air for there to be a clear acknowledgment from City Hall that more needs to be done to tackle Chicago’s affordable housing crisis. But, upon closer inspection, the proposal leaves much to be desired.

Under the ARO pilot, the affordable housing requirement for new developments of ten or more units would increase from 10 to 20 percent of total units, with new provisions to increase the number of family-size units. The in-lieu fee for developers who instead choose to pay into the city’s Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund to build units elsewhere would increase by $50,000 per new market-rate unit. At least half of the required affordable units, or 10 percent of the total unit count, would have to be built on site. The pilot area boundaries in Pilsen would generally be bounded by Peoria Street, 16th Street, the Sanitary and Ship Canal and Western Avenue. The boundaries in Little Village would generally be bounded by Western Avenue, Metra’s BNSF line tracks, the Stevenson Expressway and the city limits.

Since our city is in dire need of affordable housing, only requiring 10 percent of on-site units to be affordable, while allowing developers the loophole of paying for additional units to be built offsite, is an incredibly low standard. If we are truly dedicated to preventing the displacement of current neighborhood residents, we need to mandate that all of the affordable units be built on-site.

The plan also states that the city will use money from the affordable housing to build more low-cost units within Pilsen and Little Village, but it’s difficult to take the city on its word on that because so far the fund has not helped create affordable housing in Pilsen.

And while the pilot states that there will be new provisions for larger units to accommodate families, this creates no guarantee that the vast majority of new apartments in the pilot area won’t be too small or too expensive for working-class families. If this is the case, the displacement of families from our communities will continue.

One of the most crucial flaws of the proposal is that that the rent of the new affordable units would not reflect the average income of Latinx families in Pilsen or Little Village. According to data from the American Community Survey, the average household income for a Latinx family in Pilsen in 2013 was $32,126 annually. The current ARO requires that rental units be affordable to families earning up to 60 percent of the area median income. Currently this is about $51,000 for a family of four, which is almost 60 percent higher than that of the average Pilsen Latinx family. In order to create true affordability, the ARO rules need to be changed to reflect the actual incomes of poor and working-class people in Pilsen, Little Village, and other communities across the city.

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The BNSF right of way that the city wants to turn into El Paseo. Photo: John Greenfield

The plan also announces the city’s intention to introduce an ordinance to buy four-miles of disused railroad right of way from the BNSF Railway in order to build the proposed Paseo trail. I believe firmly that all Chicago families deserve access to open space and recreational facilities. However, with such weak provisions to create affordable housing in Pilsen and Little Village, it is irresponsible to continue with the plan for the path. Before the project moves forward, the city must commit to stronger protections to protect families from displacement along the corridor. We must view the skyrocketing housing costs associated with The 606 trail as a cautionary tale and demand more from our leaders. Otherwise, El Paseo could be just another example of an amenity that forces longtime residents out of their homes, so that they’re not around to benefit from it.

We are at a critical juncture in our city’s history, and we need to continue to challenge top-down plans that don’t actually serve the interests of current community members.

  • Jared Kachelmeyer

    These affordable units are available to anyone right, well anyone that makes under x amount of dollars? Is the rent a fixed amount or a percent of income?

  • kastigar

    How is this a transportation issue?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    We often cover transportation-related affordable housing issues, and one of the main reasons for the city coming up with this plan is the proposed Paseo trail.

  • Justin

    I for one am glad that his ordinance will help return Czech-x residents to Plzeň. They are the native inhabitants of the neighborhood before being displaced by settler-colonialist latin-x occupiers who latinized Plzeň to “Pilsen” in an attempt erase the czech people from history. This ordinance will increase the cost of development in Pilsen which will accelerate the rise in average home prices, regardless of the meager few extra affordable units that will be built, and that will help help pry the latinx occupiers out of the native czechs’ homeland so that they can return.

  • Michael J. Erickson

    If I remember, a reasonable plan by this community to keep housing affordable in this area was killed by the Mayor’s floor leader ages ago. The 606 is way more than transportation, it is a linked chain of parks. What is happening with housing (and transportation) will keep happening as long as the big wigs hold sway. Don’t hold the 4-mile trail hostage…we have a thousand miles of elevated cycle ways that need space now! Less paint, more separation! Please?

  • Carter O’Brien

    The day they rebranded the Bloomingdale Trail to the 606 “linear park system” I knew there was something afoot.

  • Kelly Pierce

    Danny Solis tried this trick with a TOD developer who wanted
    to build multi-family housing, which would include affordable units. Solis had down
    zoned the area to allow only single family homes. The alderman demanded the development
    contain 20 percent affordable units. The developer balked and built single family
    homes instead. The community ended up with zero affordable units. Linda Lopez
    and Streets Blog fail to reflect on this failed leadership. No one benefits when
    socialists excessively demand what property owners do with their assets. I will
    extend Michael’s comments. The El Paseo trail should not be held hostage to
    this affordable housing plan. It can and should be built now without waiting for
    an affordable housing plan that will likely prevent development rather than
    encourage it.

  • Combin8tion

    I’d go further and argue there is plenty of affordable housing in Chicago – the west side, south side and far south / southwest neighborhoods contain abundant affordable housing. It might mean that someone has to move to access it but when has it been a defined right that one gets to live where one wants to live. While it takes courage and spirit to be the first, this is what’s necessary to create a vibrant city of neighborhoods in Chicago. Those very same neighborhoods mentioned above could do with an influx of of new citizens ready to fight and make a difference in those communities. But some would rather fight to avoid “displacement” which is really a segregationist policy under a PC name.

  • BlueFairlane

    I’ll give you $5 if you can explain what the scenario you describe has to do with any accurate definition of socialism.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    From 2000-2014, as Logan Square gentrified, the Latino population fell by about 19,200 as the non-Hispanic white population grew by roughly 10,340: https://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20160516/logan-square/logan-squares-hispanic-population-dropped-by-19000-since-2000/

    So you’re arguing that taking steps to preserve affordable housing in diverse communities so that lower-income people of color can stay in them as more affluent whites move in, rather than letting rising housing costs force longtime residents to move to majority-POC areas with cheaper rents is segregationist? Got it.

  • I’d argue that the City has to take seriously the de-conversion of multi-unit buildings to single family homes as a major loss of affordable housing in gentrifying areas of the city. The fact that de-conversion can be done by-right under any zoning is crazy, particularly given that an upzoning requires strenuous review.

    We need to preserve our three flats and existing multi-family housing, much of which is affordable. And we likely need to implement some form of rent control, I am convinced.

  • Carter O’Brien

    A thousand times yes. Not only are those units generally affordable as they’re older & lack fancy amenities like SubZero appliances, granite countertops, doormen, pools, etc, but as most of them are owner-occupied the dynamic/relationship between landlord and tenant is much more humane.

    Growing up in two-flats and owning one myself, I guarantee you that on-site landlords value good tenants to the point of taking a hit on inflation and taxes so as to force them out. It’s also a pathway to equity for many families willing to stay in a place for decades, which also then provides neighborhood stability and helps preserve community institutions like schools and parks that require people from the “8 to 80” age spectrum.

  • Jared Kachelmeyer

    And deconversions in one neighborhood probably push out middle income renters to the next neighborhood raising rents there…

  • Carter O’Brien

    They certainly result in moving people elsewhere, but in my experience you’re as likely to see lower and lower-middle class people being displaced, with the problem then becoming there is nowhere for them to land on their feet.

    Firsthand knowledge examples going back to when I was a kid are people, say, a single mom and a kid or two, making ends meet in a ground level in-law apartment, or an attic conversion. And as a former coach house denizen, those were literally designed to appeal to lower income people (you lived closer to the trash),

  • Chrissy Breit

    YES!

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