By Angela Caputo
November 3, 2008
Long before the mortgage meltdown, renters were struggling to secure
affordable housing in a Chicago market turned upside down by years of
gentrification. A faltering economy has only intensified this
challenge. And three independent campaigns are now being waged across
the city to bolster an ever-dwindling supply of housing for low- and
middle-income residents.

In Uptown and Bronzeville — two gentrifying lakefront communities
on opposite sides of the city — voters will cast ballots tomorrow on
non-binding referendums calling for the city to set-aside Tax Increment
Financing (TIF) funds or city-owned land for affordable housing.
Grassroots community groups are backing both measures.

Northside Action for Justice, a coalition of Uptown and Rogers Park
residents, is asking voters to support earmarking 40 percent of the
city’s TIF funds for preserving or creating affordable housing.*

Eleven miles south, Housing Bronzeville wants roughly a quarter of
the community’s 1,800 vacant, city-owned lots developed and made
available to those working people increasingly priced out of the

Meanwhile, despite a cool reception from the Chicago Housing
Authority (CHA), residents of the Lathrop Homes are asking why
officials haven’t filled the public housing development’s 600 vacant
apartments as the agency’s plan for transformation fledges.

That a high foreclosure rate, softening housing market, and glut of
empty homes would turn out to be bad for renters seems
counterintuitive. But this is the case, according to a recent study
(PDF) by the Woodstock Institute (WI).

As many as 28,932 apartments in 2007 alone were emptied when
building owners went belly up, the Institute reports. This year, the
foreclosure rate has only accelerated, creating even more problems for

Perhaps the most solid evidence that people are desperate came when
the CHA fielded applications for subsidized housing last spring. More
than 250,000 people applied. A mere 40,000 actually made the wait list,
including an estimated 6,000 families.

In the meantime, housing costs continue to climb, outpacing
Illinois incomes. The minimum wage necessary to afford a two-bedroom
apartment these days is $16.23, according to Housing Action Illinois.
That’s out of reach for more than a quarter of the state’s full-time
workforce. As a result, a growing number of families are spending their
nights in shelters or on couches until they can scrape together money
for a place of their own.

With tens of thousands more looking for places to stay, Ed Shurna,
executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless says the
absence of a viable citywide plan is discouraging. He adds that the
lack of action at Lathrop is unconscionable.

"It’s wrong to keep those [apartments] boarded up considering the
demand there is for housing," Shurna said. "It wouldn’t solve the
entire problem … but it’s one of the things you should do if you care
about families."

*CLARIFICATION (11/9/08): Only certain Uptown residents ultimately
voted on the referendum, specifically those living in "precincts 8, 12,
20, 22, 23, 26, 32, 38, 41, 42 and 47 in the 46th Ward, virtually all
of which fall within the Wilson Yard TIF District."
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