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Everything You Need To Know About The Debate Over Affordable Housing Along The 606

The 606, the 2.7-mile, $95M rails-to-trails infrastructure project connecting Wicker Park and Bucktown to Humboldt Park and Logan Square, has been a boon for commercial and especially residential real estate developers. But its success brings with it fierce opposition to continued development along the trail’s western half and fears that the project will further displace working class and low-income families in historically Hispanic Humboldt Park and Logan Square.

Seating along the western half of the 606, Chicago, IL
Chicago residents enjoy the 606 near Humboldt Park.

According to a November 2016 report from DePaul University's Institute of Housing Studies, single-family home prices in Humboldt Park and Logan Square have increased 48.2% since the trail broke ground. 

"The 606 has essentially created a whole new neighborhood," Brian Perea, a youth outreach coordinator with the the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, said.

Perea said Logan Square's Hispanic population declined by 40% from early 2006 to 2014, and he believes the success of the 606 will only hasten the displacement of working class families in the neighborhood.

LSNA was one of several community groups that provided input to the Pilot Act for the Preservation of Affordable Housing in the 606 Residential Area. The ordinance, which is sponsored by Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), Roberto Maldonado (26th) and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), would impose higher demolition and development fees on developers who want to raze multifamily housing in favor of new single-family homes along the 606's western edge — an area bounded by Western Avenue on the east, Kostner Avenue on the west, Palmer Street on the north and Hirsch Avenue on the south.

Perea said the ordinance is intended to give the community oversight over the type and pace of development along the 606's western half, ensuring the neighborhood remains diverse and that the residents who originally fought for the 606 to become a reality may be able to enjoy it, without having to move out of the neighborhood.

The 606 Trail, Chicago
A mural along the 606 Trail

The fees are the subject of much debate. The ordinance would charge property owners seeking to build new housing within the 606 Residential Area $300K to demolish a single-family home, $450K to raze a two-flat and $600K for a four-flat. A standard demolition permit for a single-family home is $500. The ordinance also calls for $100K for every additional 1,750 SF developers and new landowners want to add to existing sites, and $200K for every 2,500 SF of additional space.

Perea said the ordinance's authors did not come to these fees lightly. The City of Chicago's Five-Year Housing Plan estimates replacement costs for a single unit of housing can easily exceed $350K, while HUD's measure for total development costs for a 900 SF, two-bedroom home was more than $250K.

The fees would be deposited into an affordable housing trust managed by an 11-member board of trustees composed of Buildings Commissioner Judy Frydland, Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifman, community groups and local aldermen.

Opponents of the ordinance say the bill would cease housing development along the 606's western half. But Ana Irizarry, a law project manager with the Latin United Community Housing Association, an affordable housing group in Humboldt Park, told Crain's Chicago Business in June that the trust could be used for longtime homeowners to make necessary improvements to their homes that they otherwise could not, because nearly all of their money is paying a mortgage and rising property taxes. Perea believes the ordinance would also help bolster the resale market for existing homes in Humboldt Park and Logan Square, and even get developers to pay something closer to fair market value for the properties.

Perea said the ordinance has been gaining more support since it was introduced, and is gaining momentum as the ordinance is expected to be debated by the Zoning Committee next month. Perea said the LSNA and other groups have been in regular contact with the bill's sponsors and lobbying committee members to shore up support for the bill. If the Zoning Committee approves the ordinance, it would go before the full City Council for a vote.

Perea expects the language in the ordinance to be tweaked with stronger language that would guarantee community groups have a guaranteed say in shaping the development of the 606's western half.