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ENGLEWOOD — An ambitious city plan is aiming to spur affordable, accessible housing and resources near public transportation, a strategy city leaders say will start to reverse segregation and decades of neglect in underserved neighborhoods.

City officials unveiled the “first ever” Equitable Transit-Oriented Development (eTOD) policy plan Monday.

You can view the plan here.

“Equitable” is the key concept, city officials say. The sweeping, 64-page plan was crafted in response to city data showing neighborhoods on the North Side and Downtown have seen an explosion of transit-oriented development, while underserved Black and Latino communities on the South and West Sides have been almost completely shut out.

The goal, officials said, is to change the way Chicago approaches transit-oriented development so it benefits people of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds in neighborhoods across the city.

Some policy ideas are geared to facilitate new housing near train lines, such as allowing for small-scale multi-family housing and requiring parking to be paid or leased separately.

Other ideas are more broad and meant to complement new transit-oriented development, such as increasing access to shared bikes and scooters, and upgrading pedestrian infrastructure in development zones.

More than 70 stakeholders collaborated for 18 months to develop the plan, which starts a three-year-long process. The plan helps fulfill a requirement to examine the disparities of the city’s transit-oriented development ordinance, which was amended last year.

“I do think it’s a first step, but I don’t think it’s an impotent first step by any stretch,” said Drew Williams-Clark with the Center for Neighborhood Technology, one of the groups serving on the working group.

“The thing that I think people need to take away from it is there is an effort to ensure that people who have lived in these communities — and especially low-income Black and Brown households — are able to take advantage of whatever comes out of this. There’s a strong concern that places that have been able to take advantage of this have been largely affluent and white.”

‘Not the exception but the norm’

City Council approved Chicago’s first transit-oriented development ordinance in 2013. It was expanded in 2015 to include a larger radius of where developments can be built and again in 2018 to include bus corridors.

In crafting the equitable development plan, officials found 90 percent of all new transit-oriented projects went to neighborhoods like North Center, Logan Square and Uptown, and very few developments were built near train stations on the South and West Sides.

Some of the North Side and Downtown neighborhoods that have attracted transit-oriented projects also are seeing their longtime Black and Latino residents displaced, according to the report.

Perhaps no other part of the city has attracted more transit-oriented development in the years since the ordinance was enacted than the CTA Blue Line, particularly in Logan Square and Wicker Park.

Previous 1st Ward Ald. Joe Moreno ushered in several large apartment projects along Milwaukee Avenue, most of them catered to millennials without cars. The new development came in the midst of Logan Square losing more than 20,000 longtime Latino residents.

The MiCa Towers, at Milwaukee and California avenues, debuted in 2016. The development is among several transit-oriented developments along the CTA Blue Line.Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago

Current 1st Ward Ald. Daniel La Spata said his predecessor’s handling of this type of development is part of what inspired him to run for office. 

“We saw anything but an equitable development process where development and zoning was concerned,” La Spata said.

One goal of the latest city plan is to bring economic investment to neighborhoods that need it without displacing longtime residents.

“I’m glad to see at first glance, in the city’s report, that they recognize that inequitable TOD comes with a cost, that when we push working-class families away from transit, when we don’t create space for them, we are seeing new economic and health costs that we need to bear,” La Spata said.

Roberto Requejo, program director of Elevated Chicago, offered three main recommendations to make equitable transit-oriented development “not the exception but the norm.”

First, the city must build its capacity for handling projects that prioritize equity, Requejo said. The plan recommends creating an office that brings together all the city departments typically involved in these types of development. It would also create an infrastructure for tracking and evaluating these kinds of projects that are already in motion.

Second, the city must make it easy for developers to take on equity-focused projects. Requejo said the policy will help guide the city’s planning rules to make this kind of development less of an afterthought and incentivize projects near transit in under-invested areas.

Third, leaders must make this type of development central to any long-term city planning. Chicago hasn’t had a comprehensive plan since 1966, when development in the city was deliberately aimed at improving white neighborhoods while exploiting Black and Latino areas, Requejo said.

“We haven’t unpacked all the racism and inequity that was in land use, zoning, planning,” Requejo said. “We haven’t transformed that process into one that does the exact opposite of that.”

‘It takes more than just plopping a high-rise next to a train station’

Community leaders say if the mayor is serious about bringing those same resources to the South and West sides, people in those communities need to be at the forefront of crafting the solutions.

“The history of planning and development in Chicago has been about keeping people outside of the table, and especially people of color out, so others could make decisions for them, and not necessarily with their community interests in mind,” Requejo said.

“You should not come to the community with a process that you already cooked in your organization. You should develop the design with the community,” Requejo said. “We want to make sure that these transit-oriented projects are led by the community and owned by the community and do not displace people when they get built.”

The city is accepting public comment on its plan through Oct. 29, which you can submit at

Pilsen Alliance Director Moises Moreno said he was skeptical about any city plan on development policies, especially while more immediate concerns around housing relief have yet to be adequately addressed.

While Moreno said more affordable housing was needed to address displacement, he said the city and state officials first need to prioritize helping struggling families leaving the neighborhood because they can’t pay rent as a result of the coronavirus.

Families are in survival mode and are being displaced from the Pilsen neighborhood because there is no rent or mortgage relief, he said. Once the city weathers that crisis, then local leaders can focus on development goals.

“It’s a crisis of displacement…for renters who haven’t been able to work since March,” Moreno said. “Not $500 or $1,000, we need comprehensive relief.”

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) said the plan was light on details.

Sigcho-Lopez, whose ward includes Pilsen, portions of the Near West Side, Chinatown, and West Loop, said “concrete policies and specific guidelines” were needed to ensure that future transit-oriented development helped address the issue of displacement facing neighborhoods like Pilsen.

Without clear guidelines, Sigcho-Lopez fears it might be a missed opportunity to help the most vulnerable.

“We need consistent polices that address the big elephant in the room, which is affordability,” Sigcho-Lopez said.

Last month, several aldermen said they felt shut out of major decision-making under Lightfoot’s leadership. Sigcho-Lopez said this plan offers an opportunity for aldermen to be brought into the conversation to shape policies benefiting South and West Side communities facing displacement.

“The complexity and diversity of each neighborhood has their own challenges. One size doesn’t fit all. We need to craft policies based on feedback…and a robust community conversations,” Sigcho-Lopez said.

Gabriel Piemonte, activist and former 5th Ward aldermanic candidate, agrees the success or failure of this hinges on community engagement.

“It takes more than just plopping a high-rise next to a train station,” he said. If Lightfoot is serious, she’ll listen to community input.”

Block Club reporter Hannah Alani contributed.

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Walters: Californias new housing goals stir fierce opposition

As this much-troubled year began, the twin crises of homelessness and a broader housing shortage were, by common consent, California’s most pressing political issues.

Gov. Gavin Newsom devoted almost all of his State of the State address to them in February and legislators introduced dozens of housing bills.

Within a few weeks, however, housing and homelessness took a back seat as two new twin crises slammed into the state — the COVID-19 pandemic and a severe recession triggered by an anti-virus economic shutdown.

Meanwhile, ambitious housing bills languished in a pandemic-truncated legislative session wracked by internal discord. Most spectacularly, Senate Bill 1120, which would have more or less erased single-family zoning to spur construction of multi-family projects, died in the final three minutes of the session despite being carried by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins.

It, like many other failed bills, sought to give housing advocates more clout to deal with local governments and neighborhood preservation advocates who shun high-density projects.

Although legislative efforts faltered and Newsom concentrated on other, more immediate crises — including horrendous wildfires that destroyed hundreds of houses — a state agency, without fanfare, issued new housing quotas aimed directly at officials who resist development.

Ostensibly they are just routine updates of “regional housing needs assessments” that the Department of Housing and Community Development issues every eight years. However, driven by a recent state law, the new housing goals for the 2022-30 period are much higher than previous versions and contain some enforcement that was previously lacking.

Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, carried the new law, Senate Bill 828, with the support of the Bay Area Council, a prominent business group that has advocated sharply increasing housing production.

The new decrees hit major metropolitan areas, where housing shortages are most acute, particularly hard. Overall, state goals in the four largest areas call for more than 2 million new units in the 2022-30 period to ease current shortages, deal with new population growth and offset losses of housing to old age and fire. That is more than twice the 2013-22 quotas.

In the six counties of the Southern California Association of Governments, which contain nearly half of the state’s population, the state agency’s goal more than tripled from just over 400,000 units to 1.3 million in the 2022-30 period, largely because of a new adjustment for too much overcrowded housing.

The nine-county Association of Bay Area Governments, including San Francisco, was told that its new construction goal would increase from 187,990 units to 441,176. Increases in the other two major metropolitan areas, Sacramento and San Diego, are modest because they are producing much of their needed housing.

Having received their new goals, regional planning agencies are required to mete out specific numbers to their city and county governments, but in the weeks since the new quotas were issued, resistance has developed among affected local governments and officials are mulling whether to challenge them in court.

Opposition is strongest in the affluent Bay Area suburbs and critics have new ammunition in a study by the Palo Alto-based Embarcadero Institute, an ally of local governments and high-density housing opponents.

The study contends that in the state’s four major metropolitan areas, SB 828’s methodology and calculations by the Department of Housing and Community Development “unwittingly” resulted in goals nearly twice what’s actually needed.

The difference between the state and Embarcadero Institute is more than 900,000 units and the study clearly sets the stage for a legal and political showdown on how far the state can go in forcing reluctant local officials to generate more housing construction than they want.

Dan Walters is a CalMatters columnist.

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