Chicago Cityscape's '1909' newsletter

The fund is supported in large part by the MacArthur foundation, but anyone can make a small or large investment

Benefit Chicago is a local social impact investment fund launched in May 2016. Whet Moser wrote for Chicago magazine at the time: “[Benefit Chicago is] a community-investment vehicle that, on one side, loans money at low interest rates to people and projects that have trouble getting it from other types of financial institutions, and on the other, returns money to investors.”

The fund is operated by Calvert Impact Capital (which operates other funds), was seeded by MacArthur Foundation, and is advised by the Chicago Community Trust (among other organizations).

For as little as $20, anyone can invest their money online into Benefit Chicago knowing that it will be loaned to locally owned small businesses in Chicago based on social impact goals at a low interest rate and presumably without the kind of discrimination that Black and Brown small business owners suffer from when trying to get loans from big lenders.

I invested a very small amount of money in Benefit Chicago in 2016. I was excited that there was an investment fund that invested in Chicago businesses that a lot of Chicagoans can afford due to its low minimum. Many investment funds and crowdfunding programs have a minimum investment requirement of thousands of dollars and aren’t not necessarily local. I think the concept of Chicagoans supporting each other collectively through small investments is wonderful. I’m not offering investment advice.

For a while, though, it wasn’t totally apparent to me that Benefit Chicago was making any investments, and so it didn’t seem transparent. Fundrise, on the other hand, which is not a social impact fund, but a real estate investment trust, sends email every other week explaining its new investments, complete with photos and a summary explanation of the loan terms.

The investments Benefit Chicago is making today

Fast forward to October 2019; I still like the program and I saw an announcement from Benefit Chicago’s press relations team about two new investments to be administered through the Self-Help Ventures Fund. The fund is operated alongside the Self-Help Federal Credit Union, which entered Chicago this decade when it acquired Second Federal Savings & Loan and Seaway Bank.

According to the Self-Help website, the credit union and nonprofit fund were created by Martin Eakes and Bonnie Wright in 1980 to help “employees in rural North Carolina form farmworker-owned cooperatives and gain ownership of local mills that were being shut down”. The enterprising people were “stopped in their tracks because they couldn’t get conventional financing”.

Darryl Newell, market president of Seaway Bank, described to me the two projects that the Self-Help Ventures Fund is going to invest $5 million in on the South Side.

Healthy hub in Englewood

The Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) will use a $610,000 investment to partially fund a “healthy hub” in an existing Englewood building near 63rd Street and Racine Avenue. The project, at 1207 W 63rd St, received a building permit in May. Wheeler Kearns Architects is designing it.

Renderings of IMAN’s under construction healthy hub by Wheeler Kearns Architects.

“[IMAN] recognized that there’s a food desert there and they took control of an old building. They’re going to renovate it, have a healthy corner store, a café and eatery, and build some training space and office space.” Healthy food, Newell said, is one of the Self-Help Ventures Fund’s “lending segments” because “a lot of people need healthy foods in a walkable distance”.

IMAN is known for their work to change what corner stores sell in Black neighborhoods and improve relationships and understanding between customers and the many Muslim and/or Arab corner store owners. WBEZ reporter Natalie Moore first wrote about IMAN’s “Corner Store Campaign” in 2010, and referenced it in her book, The South Side, in 2016.

Community services hub in Chatham

The second project that Self-Help Ventures Fund is using Benefit Chicago money for is the conversion of Seaway Bank’s own former headquarters into a community services hub in Chatham. Newell said that “we [the bank] don’t need 40,000 square feet anymore” at the existing building at 645 E 87th St. “We only need 2,400 square feet” so Self-Help conducted a charrette to ask “what do we do with this big old building?”

Disclaimer: MAP Strategies, a Chicago small business where I’m the Director of Urban Planning & Technology, is the permit manager for this project. I am not involved in MAPS’s permit management services.

The former bank building will be renovated into a community services hub by the Self-Help Ventures Fund. Photo: Jeff Zoline

This is Self-Help’s first project outside of North Carolina, where the community development financial institution (CDFI) started, Newell said. From the charrette, Newell said, “We decided that we needed a community services hub.” Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) will be a tenant, and there will be a small bank outlet, and the remaining space will be rented to non-profits at a below-market rate.

Additionally, Newell said, there needs to be a center for small business owners to gather and meet, given that the Greater Chatham Initiative’s study found thousands of small businesses in the area “and we and Benefit Chicago agreed that they need a professional meeting place”.

Both of these projects sustain part of the mission of the Self-Help Ventures Fund, Newell said, to expand financing capabilities to include “flexible and risk-tolerant capital which can advance small businesses and have a local impact in Chicago”.


Two South Side community hubs are moving forward with investment from Benefit Chicago was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Thursday, November 07, 2019

Where the ARO units are

The Chicago Department of Housing published its interactive Affordable Requirements Ordinance dashboard today. The website shows where residential units have been built as a result of the City’s ARO law, in place since 2003.

The ARO is a form of inclusionary housing, a group of rules used in cities all over the country that require market-rate housing builders to provide affordable housing. In the ARO generally, the developer has to rent or sell 10 percent of the units in a project as affordable in exchange for a zoning change.

And it’s one of the many affordable housing funding programs that Chicago funds or tracks (in this case tracks). Read about the 19 other programs.

ARO units are one of the many types of affordable housing that Chicago tracks and lists in its affordable developments dataset that we recently added.

My favorite part about the dashboard is that DOH policy analyst Paul Williams said it’s going to be updated monthly, and eventually more frequently as it becomes automated. My second favorite part is that all of the data can be downloaded.

A screenshot of part of the dashboard showing the projects in the West Town community area that have an ARO contribution for affordable housing.

It’s easy to highlight a specific community area and see how many ARO units are (1) proposed, (2) approved by the DOH, (3) have been issued permits, or (4) are completed and accepting tenants.

The West Town community area has the second highest number of ARO units with 43 completed on-site units in nine projects. There are 88 on-site units under construction in 10 projects.

The analysis I’m interested in is how many ARO units are in TOD zones, areas within 1,320 feet (two blocks) of CTA and Metra stations and eligible bus route corridors. The residential project locations are aggregated to a block, so the analysis isn’t entirely accurate, but it’s good enough for this purpose.

These unit counts do not represent the full amount of affordable housing built because of the ARO. Many builders pay an in lieu fee that the city uses to construct or subsidize housing or pay rents for very low income households. In rare occasions, the developer will build their required units off-site. The dashboard has 362 projects in the four stages; we analyzed the 125 buildings that are under construction or completed.

How many on-site units are near transit?

Of the 54 completed residential projects in the ARO dashboard, 23 buildings, 42.6 percent, with 223 units are within one block of a CTA or Metra station; 37 buildings, 68.5 percent, with 364 units are within two blocks of a station.

The map shows the location of completed residential projects with on-site ARO units from transit: CTA and Metra stations and eligible bus route corridors. A project that’s under construction or complete is more likely to be within 2 blocks of transit (a station or eligible bus route corridor) than further away.

Of the same 54 completed locations, 16 buildings, 29.6 percent, with 122 units are within one block of an eligible bus route corridor; 26 buildings, 48.1 percent, with 159 units are within two blocks of one of the eligible bus route corridors. These groups of 16 and 26 buildings may also be near a CTA or Metra station, so there is some double counting of units.

These bus route corridors were added to the Chicago TOD ordinance in January 2019 and effectively doubled the area of Chicago in a TOD zone.

In total, there are 407 completed ARO units in 45 buildings within two blocks of a CTA or Metra station or eligible bus route corridor.

How many on-site units will soon be near transit?

Of the 71 under construction residential projects in the ARO dashboard, 12 buildings, 16.9 percent, with 51 units are within one block of a CTA or Metra station; 32 buildings, 45.1 percent, with 306 are within two blocks.

Of the same 71 locations under construction, 14 buildings, 19.7 percent, with 155 units are within one block of an eligible bus route corridor; 24 buildings, 32.4 percent, with 210 units are within two blocks.


Where the ARO units are was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


The Illinois law that legalizes recreational marijuana cultivation and sales establishes “disproportionately impacted areas” (DIA). These are places across the state where there has been a high rate of people being incarcerated for violating anti-marijuana laws and have high poverty or unemployment. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) published the DIAs this month.

In the process to apply for a dispensary license, people can earn extra points in the review of their applications for being a “Social Equity Applicant” (see the Cannabis Regulation & Tax Act and the application instructions). One of the qualifying criteria is that the applicant has lived in a DIA for a minimum period of time. Another is that at least half of the applicant’s future 10+ person staff reside in DIAs.

I compared the DIAs — which use Census tract boundaries — to the Chicago ward boundaries to help readers and customers understand where these areas are. Additionally, since the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund program rules were tweaked to allow the City of Chicago to offer grants to cannabis business establishments, I’ve created a map showing where those areas overlap.

Map shows the 50 Chicago wards and how they overlap with State of Illinois-designated Disproportionately Impacted Areas.

DIAs + Chicago Wards

The following ten Chicago wards are entirely overlapping with Disproportionately Impacted Areas (each link opens a map of the ward):

The 42nd Ward is functionally one of the six wards with no Disproportionately Impacted Areas.

An additional 13 wards are majority in a DIA: 3rd, 4th, 5th, 10th, 12th, 15th, 16th, 18th, 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th, and the 29th Wards.

Six wards have no overlap with DIAs (30th, 33rd, 42nd, 43rd, 44th, and the 47th Wards). The 42nd Ward functionally has no DIAs even though it overlaps a tiny bit with a DIA (see map).

DIAs + Neighborhood Opportunity Fund areas

The Neighborhood Opportunity Fund (NOF) is a grant program for small businesses on the South and West Sides in the NOF investment areas. NOF is funded by payments made according to the Neighborhood Opportunity Bonus (NOB) program, which allows developers to purchase additional building density in the downtown area.

There is a lot of overlap between the Disproportionately Impacted Areas and the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund investment areas.

Eighty percent of the NOB proceeds go to the NOF; ten percent goes to a local improvements fund, which can also be in kind (when approved by city planners, the developer pays their own contractor for an improvement to a street, park, or library); ten percent goes to stabilize or renovate landmarked buildings.

Yesterday, Mayor Lightfoot announced changes to the NOF grant program, which include being able to give grants to potential cannabis businesses.

Another important change is funding startup costs “like appraisals, environmental surveys and architectural services”. Previously, the NOF program wouldn’t grant any money upfront; the small business owner had to raise money on their own and get reimbursed by NOF later.

Chicago Cityscape has an exclusive site locator map for people who want to open a cannabis business establishment. It shows the relevant public and private schools and their 500 foot buffers, existing medical dispensaries, Chicago’s seven cannabis districts, the DIAs, and more.

Need personalized site selection help? Contact MAP Strategies.


Where are the cannabis disproportionately impacted areas? was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


The City of Chicago supports the construction and maintenance of affordable housing through direct funding, financing, and regulations — that’s “Affordable housing” with a capital “A” because there are rules that define what kind of rental and sale prices constitute affordable. The Chicago Department of Housing tracks the location of these affordable dwelling units and recently enhanced their version of the data on the City’s data portal.

We’ve also integrated that improved dataset of affordable apartment buildings across Chicago Cityscape.

Screenshot of a map showing the location of affordable housing developments in part of Humboldt Park.
Look up the Humboldt Park community area, for example, to find the location of 36 affordable housing developments that the Chicago Department of Housing tracks with a total of 846 affordable dwelling units.

Recently, the City added the location of residential units that were constructed by property owners to comply with the Affordable Requirements Ordinance, or ARO, which added about 200 more buildings to the dataset.

The ARO, generally, requires that builders set aside 10 percent of the new or added units as Affordable for 30 years if the builder receives a zoning change in order to build or add 10 or more units.

The location of ARO and units funded through other means (like the Low Income Housing Trust Fund or TIF) is important to track compliance over the duration of the funding for those residences, and to help residents find known affordable housing. Naturally occurring affordable housing’s location isn’t tracked by any local organization officially, except when it’s disappearing.

How to find affordable housing on Chicago Cityscape

There are two ways to use Chicago Cityscape to find the location of the affordable that the Chicago Department of Housing (DOH) tracks:

  1. Look up an address and find developments within a couple of blocks.
  2. Look up a Place and find all of the developments within that Place. Places include community areas, voting precincts, Census tracts, wards, TIF districts, and dozens of other types.

Cityscape Pro members and those who’ve purchased the relevant Address Snapshot report are able to download the data as a map or spreadsheet file.

There’s also small “a” affordable housing which is unsubsidized housing that’s affordable and attainable; sometimes called naturally occurring affordable housing (NOAH). This kind of housing isn’t tracked and data that can be used to analyze where it exists is often a year or two delayed, which may not be useful to people looking for places to live. The data is useful to track which places are becoming less affordable, something the Institute of Housing Studies does well.

Ways to fund affordable housing in Chicago

Not all of the funding mechanisms listed below include City money, but the Department of Housing can assist housing developers navigate the complicated financial options. The list was derived from the most recent quarterly housing plan update.

  • Tax Increment Financing (TIF); this is geographically based
  • Loans
  • Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC)
  • Illinois Affordable Housing Tax Credit (IAHTC); any organization that owes an Illinois income tax can make a donation to an affordable housing project in exchange for a tax credit worth half the donation
  • Multi-family housing revenue bonds; tax-exempt bonds are sold on behalf of housing developers at a low interest rate
  • Chicago Low Income Housing Trust Fund (LIHTF)
  • Troubled Buildings Initiative (TBI)
  • TIF Neighborhood Improvement Program
  • Historic Chicago Bungalow Initiative
  • Neighborhood Lending Program; downpayment and closing cost assistance administered by Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS)
  • Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund (AHOF) and Multi-year Affordability through Upfront Investment (MAUI)
  • Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO

Use Chicago Cityscape to find affordable housing developments was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


At Chicago’s first cannabis zoning meeting on Tuesday, October 8, at Malcolm X College (the first of three), four people offered comments and criticism of the City’s proposal to exclude a large swath of the Central Business District from hosting pot dispensaries. (Read the proposed zoning rules.)

Paul Stewart is standing at the lectern at Tuesday’s meeting. Alder Tom Tunney, Zoning Administrator Patrick Murphey, and Zoning committee aide Nicole Wellhausen are seated.

The city’s reasoning, said Deputy Mayor Samir Mayekar to the Chicago Tribune, was “From a public safety standpoint as the industry develops, it was best to exclude that from operations. But there’s plenty of areas within a short walk of the area.”

Other reasons cited at the meeting included the density of tourists, traffic congestion, and non-specific security concerns.

The objectors’ comments included:

  • Bryen Yunashko, who is deaf and blind, said that downtown was the most accessible part of Chicago for people with disabilities and dispensaries in downtown would be the easiest for the people he knows to acquire product. Paul Stewart, a mayoral policy advisor, responded that not all of downtown is excluded. (Note that all CTA stations in the Loop — elevated and subway — are in the exclusion zone. Additionally, the busy Merchandise Mart, Chicago-Brown and Chicago-Red, and Grand stations are in the proposed exclusion zone. Ogilvie and Union Stations are not in the downtown exclusion zone, but the Millennium and LaSalle Stations are in the exclusion zone.) Read more of Yunashko’s comments in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Map of proposed downtown exclusion zone for cannabis dispensaries.
  • An attendee asked for the rationale to be explained, mentioning that there are seven liquor stores and “countless bars and restaurants”. Paul Stewart responded that the City considered traffic patterns, congestion, tourism, and security. Alder Tom Tunney (46th Ward) said he doesn’t speak for Mayor Lightfoot, and that it’s about spreading the dispensaries around the city.
  • Mike Malcolm stood up to say that some companies can afford the high rent prices in the downtown exclusion zone and pushing them out to open dispensaries outside of downtown could have negative economic effects for individuals and small businesses that don’t want to open downtown. (Mike Malcolm)
  • Another attendee said that the securest place in the city is downtown, likely implying that the downtown is an ideal place for a business type that has elevated security requirements.

Why not allow cannabis dispensaries downtown? was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


David Zegeye is a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and an astrophysicist with a passion for Chicago. @DavidZegeye

Under Cook County’s Human Rights Ordinance (HRO), there cannot be unlawful discrimination in “employment, public accommodations, housing, credit transactions, County services and County contracting” because of “a person’s race, color, sex, age, religion, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status, military discharge status, source of income or housing status”.

However, until last month, the HRO — which was adopted in 1993 — did not prohibit discrimination against people with a previous conviction history.

Why does that matter? People with a conviction record have historically been denied housing by landlords and public housing authorities, where they are “almost 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public,” (Prison Policy Initiative). Black and Latinx people makeup almost 90% of the US prison population, and are incarcerated by society at higher rates than other races. They are disproportionately most affected by housing discrimination after re-entering society.

A new report by the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Illinois Justice Project found that returning people face re-entry housing issues. Housing discrimination is a primary reason why many returning people end up homeless or being sent back to prison.

Homelessness rates among demographics of people who have been formerly incarcerated. Source: Prison Policy Initiative

Willette Benford spoke in an interview with Curbed landlords denying her housing after being released from prison. “They just look at the paper, and they’re immediately afraid. They don’t know the details, and they just make the assumption that everyone’s still guilty. Then they deny you housing, which is just a basic necessity — and then where else are you supposed to go?” (Curbed)

Reincarcerating people who have previously been convicted destabilizes neighborhoods and costs Illinois $100 million annually given the cost of imprisoning people. Recommendations to help people re-entering society include providing rental subsidy programs, offering joint housing and job training programs, and removing barriers to live in public housing units.

The Cook County Board on April 25, 2019, passed the Just Housing Ordinance (JHO), which aims to address this form of discrimination.

The ordinance is an interpretive amendment to the Human Rights Ordinance to include people with a conviction history as a protected identity, given the history and pattern of discrimination against them. The JHO will include protections to ensure people with conviction backgrounds are not discriminated by housing providers when applying for a lease.

The JHO seeks to address this discrimination by modifying how housing providers are able to screen their applicants. Now, people can only be screened after they pre-qualify, housing providers must show their screening criteria to applicants, and give applicants the right to dispute any inaccuracies in the landlord’s assessment. This legislation also empowers applicants through “Conviction Dispute Procedures”, where applicants can argue the relevance of their record to a lease in addition to disputing inaccuracies. However, the applicant only has two days to file a dispute, and five days to gather evidence for their case.

Housing providers (which includes landlords) under JHO must then perform an individual assessment of applicants after they have gone through the screening process and conviction disputes. While the ordinance requests limited use of an applicant’s background when compiling an assessment, there are no clear criteria for how to limit housing providers’ collection of an applicant’s background and eligible factors to consider.

JHO also emphasizes protection for people with past convictions when seeking assistance for public housing units. People with conviction records have been barred from public housing and banned from visiting relatives who live in public housing units. Doing so violated the rules of being on public housing, and relatives risked losing housing assistance. This was known as the “One strike, you’re out” policy, which was a part of the Housing Opportunity Program Extension Act of 1996 signed by President Bill Clinton. Under the guidance of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), public housing authorities adopted the measure.

This has resulted in the separation of families from living together. As Chandra Bell recounts in High Rise Stories: Voices from Chicago Public Housing by Audrey Petty, she was living in Orchard Park, a mixed-income housing development near Cabrini-Green across from the New City mall, when she received word that her seventeen-year-old son was charged with selling drugs. This conviction mark on his record barred him from living with his mother in Orchard Park, even though he was a minor at the time.

“I shouldn’t have to get punished for what he did outside, and he’s been punished; he sees his mistake now. It’s sad that a child can’t come and visit their mother, but I had a choice,” Bell says that “if I see him around here, I have to call the police on my son or else I’m in trouble. Them kind of rules is not right. They screwing the families up.”

HUD has already informed public housing authorities that they can no longer discriminate against people with an arrest record. The Just Housing Ordinance would provide enforcement of this rule at the county level — which would include the City of Chicago.

Enforcement is key for the ordinance to be effective, given that the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) in their annual report estimates four million acts of housing discrimination each year. Despite discrimination being illegal under the Fair Housing Act, lack of enforcement means landlords can deny applicants without having their decision questioned. The NFHA study says that the “biggest obstacle to fair housing rights is the federal government’s failure to enforce the law vigorously.”

In 2012, New York City’s Commission on Human Rights studied housing discrimination by race to see if reminding landlords about fair housing laws would reduce their discrimination of applicants. Black and Hispanic applicants were respectively 24% and 48% less likely to receive lease offer when compared to white applicants. Even when applicants assertively reminded landlords of anti-discrimination laws, discrimination against Hispanic applicants only decreased by 6.6% while Black people were discriminated by landlords at the same rates.

Andrew Guess, a co-author of the study, says that cities proactively reminding landlords “should pack as much information into the message as they can to make the intervention as powerful as possible” (Route Fifty). Guess suggests combining these actions with anti-discrimination awareness campaigns to be more effective.

This is exactly what the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) did for Toronto to fight anti-Black racism from employers and landlords. The city and OCASI placed posters at various bus shelters and subway stations to remind residents of housing rights in the city, have them confront their racial bias, and most importantly, show how racism directly impacts Black Torontonians.

Left: An ad in the Toronto subway demands a fast reaction about tenant selection. Right: A poster highlighting how Black people in Toronto experience racism in the city (Source: OCASI)

While the JHO allows applicants to challenge a landlord’s decision, the ordinance could be paired with informational campaigns across the county to show the damage being done to people with a conviction record who do not have housing.

Although JHO was approved in April, the ordinance has not been finalized into law. According to Kristin Ginger, manager of Housing Action Illinois, the “Cook County Commissioners are deciding on what rules to enact in order to implement this legislation, and it has generated some debate” — there was a hearing on September 4, 2019, to discuss rulemaking. Under rulemaking, the rules and policies in a given ordinance are refined and tested for legality. This can result in rules of an ordinance being different from their initial version, or not approved at all.

There is the possibility of the county approving a small set of the ordinance’s rules, resulting in weaker protections for applicants. Before the ordinance was adopted, the JHO was sent back to the county’s Human Rights Commission for additional revisions.


Blocking formerly incarcerated people from obtaining housing is now against Cook County law was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Chicago Cityscape has been a bootstrapped startup for practically its entire existence by sometimes relying on jerry-rigged solutions. That includes how we handled payments. While we use best-in-industry Stripe as our payment processor, and MoonClerk to collect people’s payment information to pass along to Stripe, Chicago Cityscape didn’t have the payment functions that websites should offer.

All of that has changed this month, as Chicago Cityscape has created a new payment collection and subscription management system.

Visit your My Account page to see all of the new information Chicago Cityscape members have access to.

It’s just as secure as it was before — Chicago Cityscape never knows your credit card or bank account information, which is held by Stripe (if you’ve bought anything online that’s not sold by Amazon you’ve interacted with Stripe).

What’s new for Chicago Cityscape subscribers

  • Cancel your plan yourself — This wasn’t easy before, now it’s dead simple. Go to your My Account page.
  • Change between plans — Switch from Cityscape Permits to Cityscape Pro, or from monthly to annual, all by yourself.
  • Subscribe to add-ons like Incentives Checker by yourself — Incentives Checker is available to both Cityscape Permits and Cityscape Pro members and shows which financial & development incentives are available at any given location in Illinois
  • View your payment history — Viewing receipts for past payments is a first for Chicago Cityscape subscribers
  • Easily change or remove payment methods — Remove or replace a credit card, or change to paying via Apple Pay or Google Pay
  • See the date when your next payment will be made — Always know when your credit card or bank account will be charged
  • Add a team member/colleague for a discount and share data with them — Contact us to add someone to your account

Try it out

Some people have experienced issues while we’ve transitioned to the new payment system, all of which have been resolved.

If you’re not a Cityscape Pro member, I want you to try our purchasing an Address Snapshot report for $0. Here’s a coupon code for 1 free report: FREEADDRESSSNAPSHOTOCT2019.

Of course, if you run into any issues, please contact us.


Take control of your Chicago Cityscape subscriptions like never before was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


A majority of the 985 ordinances introduced to Chicago City Council on Wednesday are what should probably be administrative tasks instead of legislation — granting public way permits, allowing awnings over the sidewalk, and approving sidewalk café permits. But some of them would substantially modify rules or create new policy and I’ve summarized the proposed zoning and land use ordinances below.

Housing

  • The 606 demolition, deconversion, and development fee ordinance originally proposed in May 2017 is back. In a cursory read, it seems very close to or the same as the original: It would set high fees for demolishing or deconverting and removing units from the housing stock in an area around the 606 to reduce the pace of new construction (high cost) housing through teardowns and deconversions. The ordinance, O2019–6968, is officially called “Pilot Act for the Preservation of Affordable Housing in the 606 Residential Area”, covers the same area, and has six more supporters (nine instead of three) than the first proposal.
The proposed 606 residential area where demolition and deconversion fees would apply to stem the loss of naturally occurring affordable housing.
  • Alders Raymond Lopez (15th) and Anthony Napolitano (41st) introduced ordinance O2019–7576 that would require chicken owners who live in residential zones to obtain a new Livestock Permit for $25 annually. People who live in three-flats or larger buildings wouldn’t be allowed to obtain a permit.
  • The Open Space Impact Fee — assessed when new construction housing isn’t provided with a minimum of open space on site — would go up about 66 percent per unit in proposed ordinance O2019–7523.
  • The accessory dwelling unit (ADU) and coach house legislation wasn’t introduced yesterday, but it’s still being discussed and drafted within the Lightfoot administration.

For businesses

Mayor Lightfoot has proposed dividing recreational cannabis dispensaries into seven districts to ensure geographical distribution across Chicago. Map via MAP Strategies.
  • A sort of complementary ordinance, O2019-6979, introduced by 36th Ward Alder Villegas, would set cannabis licensing fees and standards. The same ordinance would change crime rules. However! This ordinance also includes zoning provisions that conflict with Mayor Lightfoot’s ordinance in the item above.
  • 32nd Ward Alder Waguespack introduced an ordinance to reduce the (odd) minimum distance between hair salons, nail salons, and beauty shops from 1,000 feet to 200 feet. It would also allow the city’s Zoning Administrator to waive the 200 feet requirement. (O2019-6936)
  • In proposed ordinance O2019-6951, convenience and liquor stores 5,000 s.f. or larger could sell alcoholic beverages starting at 8 AM on Sundays. Currently, only stores 10,000 s.f. or larger have this privilege.

Get to know 7 newly proposed land use, business, and zoning ordinances was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Proposal: Put an eligible house into the Chicago land trust to lower its taxes and preserve affordability

The Chicago Department of Housing and the Chicago Community Land Trust (CCLT) want to start a novel pilot program to preserve existing affordable housing in community areas that are at risk of gentrifying. The Department of Housing asked for City Council’s permission on Wednesday at the regular Housing & Real Estate committee meeting, but was rebuffed due to insufficient engagement with community organizations.

One of the pilot program’s unique aspects is to encourage homeowners in six targeted community areas to opt in and “put” their houses in the land trust in exchange for significantly lower property taxes and access to a $30,000 grant for home repairs and energy upgrades. All while continuing to own the house.

The ordinance is entitled “Affordable Homeownership and Housing Pilot Program”, or AHHP (O2019–5555).

Under a new proposal, owners of single-family houses (including condos and townhouses) and two-flats in East Garfield Park (shown) could submit their houses to the Chicago Community Land Trust, lower their property taxes, and preserve its affordability for 30 years. Photo: Steven Vance

Here’s how it would work

The owner of an eligible property (single-family, condo, townhouse, two-flat, vacant lot) would apply to “opt in”. The CCLT would conduct a fair market appraisal to determine the property’s market value. It would also calculate an “affordable value”, an amount roughly equal to something affordable to someone earning 100 percent of the area median income (AMI) spending no more than 30 percent of their income on housing (mortgage, taxes, and insurance). The affordable value would become the new assessed value, the value upon which the house is taxed. Additionally, a “maximum resale value” would also be set (the formula wasn’t available before publishing this).

The fair market value and the affordable value would be written into an irrevocable covenant and deed restriction attached to the property that would last for 30 years. If the owner decided to sell the property while the covenant and deed restriction is active, it could only be sold to someone whose household income doesn’t exceed 100 percent of the AMI up to the “maximum resale value”, and the seller could only receive 1/5th of any appreciation in the property’s value upon sale.

The selling point is this: Make your house affordable for the next person in exchange for drastically lower property taxes for the next 30 years.

How much savings? Alder Pat Dowell (3rd) asked that question, and Anthony Simpkins, the Managing Deputy Commissioner at the Department of Housing, said the property tax reduction was “anywhere from 30 to 60 percent”.

On top of the lower taxes, the homeowner could apply for up to $30,000 in grant money to correct health and safety hazards, replace the roof or porch, and install energy efficiency upgrades.

A lower assessed value and a limit in homeowner cashout ensures long-term affordability. The opt-in program isn’t for people with expensive houses or those who want to profit off of selling their house.
Simpkins said, “Folks that are interested in cashing out, this is not an option for them.”

The six initial community areas would be (click on each for a map):

The committee deferred the ordinance

The opt in program is only one part of the ordinance. Most of the $3 million funding that the Department of Housing was asking to be allocated, out of an already existing budget of $7.4 million derived from developer’s paying the ARO in lieu fee, would be spent acquiring and rehabilitating properties.

Many alders were upset that community organizations were left out of the discussion in designing the ordinance. Several mentioned Logan Square Neighborhood Association, in particular — based on what some of the alders said, it seemed that LSNA devised the same or similar idea, but was not included in developing or administering this ordinance.

Jennie Fronczak, the director of development for Latin United Community Housing Association (LUCHA), said that the proposed ordinance needed revisions and also asked for the committee to defer a vote. “We’ve been asking to co-create effective tools that will preserve homeownership in our communities. We are asking to delay this vote until the next meeting, so that we can sit down and go over the logistics, so that the resource that’s created can be effective.” One change Fronczak suggested was using the more stringent ground lease rather than deed restrictions on houses that opted in.

Additionally, Fronczak told me afterward, the ordinance’s maximum resale value formula should not be based on the market value, but on a flat rate or indexed to the Consumer Price Index (inflation) or Area Median Income “which prove much more resilient during market crashes”.

Simpkins had explained earlier that the Department’s conversations with LSNA staff had brought out a useful way for LSNA to help, by identifying properties for the CCLT to acquire. Simpkins stressed that the vote should happen so the CCLT can get started right away. Alders, Simpkins, and people giving public comment all agreed that gentrification was a timely issue: Properties in Hermosa were said to be listed for 30 to 40 days before closing.

The insufficient engagement with community organizations was enough for Alder Maldonado (26th) to make a motion to defer the ordinance. Alder Osterman (48th) decided to table the ordinance to avoid the need for a vote on the motion, effectively deferring discussion on the ordinance.

Notes

The CCLT is a land trust in name only. Refer to Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s report from February 2019 about concerns that the Land Trust wasn’t fulfilling its mission effectively. This ordinance, however, would move CCLT into the territory of real land trusts that acquire property and keep housing costs low by taking away the financial burden of owning land.

Other land trusts have formed recently, but we’re still learning about them:

  • LSNA, LUCHA, and the Spanish Coalition for Housing formed the Here to Stay Community Land Trust this year in Hermosa and West Logan Square.
  • The Chicago Owners Land Trust (COLT) was created two years ago by the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign with support from the Chicago Community Loan Fund (CCLF, which is a big supporter of cooperative businesses and housing as well), Action Now Institute, and Greater Southwest Development Corporation.

Proposal: Put an eligible house into the Chicago land trust to lower its taxes was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


This is a big year for solar energy in Illinois. Illinois has committed state funding and changed regulations to increase the amount of electricity that Illinois users get from solar panels. This post is about two things:

  1. Building more solar power sources in low-income and environmental justice communities because of a new state law called FEJA
  2. Showing how Chicago Cityscape can help

1. Building more solar power sources

The Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA, “fee-juh”) was adopted in 2016 and created the Illinois Solar for All (ISFA) program. Elevate Energy, founded and based in Chicago, operates the program. ISFA will help homeowners, community organizations, and others get solar energy systems on buildings and on vacant land so that people in low-income households can reap the benefits of solar power.

Exelon, the parent company of ComEd, owns this solar panel farm at 120th and Racine in West Pullman, Chicago. ComEd will have to buy more electricity from solar and wind sources to comply with new state law. Photo by Josh Mogerman.

The Illinois Power Agency Act of 2007 requires that electricity utility companies in Illinois source 25 percent of their energy from solar and wind by 2025. FEJA amends that standard by requiring a significant portion to be sourced from low-income and environmental justice communities [1]. Additionally, 4,300 megawatts of new solar and wind power must be built.

Rather than rely solely on ComEd and Ameren to achieve the state’s goals, Illinois Solar for All is an incentive program to jumpstart building new solar panel systems. On the customer side, ISFA will find eligible people who either (1) can host new photovoltaic solar panels, or (2) want to buy power from local solar sources in a community (shared) solar setup [2].

On the property owner side, ISFA is approving vendors who will submit projects to be partially funded by an Illinois renewable energy fund. These properties can be residential rooftops, or buildings and land owned by non-profit organizations and public agencies in low-income and environmental justice communities (LI and EJ).

FEJA will give those approved vendors an upfront payment for their approved projects’ renewable energy credits; a REC represents 1 megawatt hour of electricity generated from a renewable energy source. The payment will equal 15 years of estimated RECs (with a premium) and be paid in the first year or over five years, depending on project factors.

For residential building owner-initiated rooftop solar projects, an approved vendor will be paid for the RECs of that system, and they will pass on some of the savings to the building owner. Residential properties must be occupied by low-income households but don’t have to be in LI or EJ communities.

Vendors must hire graduates from a solar job training program to complete a portion of the work (several of which are located in Chicago) — this brings a social benefit, as a portion of these graduates must come from LI and EJ communities. To control costs, capital and operating costs for the system aren’t allowed to exceed 50 percent of the value of the electricity generated.

Illinois Solar for All should spur more solar panel array construction, low-income households can potentially save on their energy bills, and Illinois can get more of its electricity from renewal resources.

Aaron Joseph, who has developed real estate and now develops solar panel arrays as Star Field Road, LLC, told me, “Illinois Solar for All is cool, and pretty unprecedented. Solar procurement is typically a commodity product. The unusual dynamic of the job training requirement changes things for solar companies.”

What’s happening now? The staff at Illinois Solar for All (Elevate Energy) are reviewing 29 community solar projects this week. The projects that end up getting approved will have 15 years of estimated RECs purchased and retired by the Illinois Power Agency in the first year, or first five years, depending on the project.

Want to participate?

Residents: Check to see if you or your tenants’ incomes qualify for the Illinois Solar for All program.

Non-profits and public agencies: Check to see if any of your properties are in low-income or environmental justice communities.

Contractors: Become an approved vendor.

Not eligible for Illinois Solar for All? Check out Solarize Chicagoland, a program operated independently of the State of Illinois to also increase residential solar by pooling customers to share in the cost of building new solar panel systems. Homeowners can start by requesting a site assessment.

2. How Chicago Cityscape can help

We’ve got maps, of course! These maps say if an address you’re looking up is in a low-income or environmental justice community. If it is, then the FEJA law and the Illinois Solar for All program — and the administrator, Elevate Energy — wants to install more solar energy sources there.

In the course of researching properties, use Address Snapshot to also identify if a property is in a low-income or environmental justice community.

Look up an Address Snapshot anywhere in Illinois and scroll down to “Environmental information”. Voilà!

And that’s not all: We also have maps and data to make it easy to find vacant land — using Property Finder — on which to build larger, ground-based community solar panel arrays. It works in Cook County only, but we can develop the information for other Illinois counties upon request.

Notes

N.B. This post was originally going to review some actual solar projects, but just learning how Illinois Solar for All works and trying to explain that here took up all the time. Thank you to Aaron Joseph of Star Field Road for teaching me about Illinois solar regulations.

[1] An environmental justice community is one that bears disproportionately high or adverse effects of environmental pollution (Illinois Environmental Justice Act of 1997). For the purposes of identifying these communities which are used as a factor in sorting projects for funding dedicated to EJ communities, the Illinois Power Agency adapted a method from the State of California. The IPA explains its method on page 188 (PDF) in the Long-Term Renewable Resources Procurement Plan.

[2] Subscribers to community (shared) solar panel systems won’t actually get their home’s electricity from solar panels because electricity sources are mixed in the electrical grid, but subscribers’ monthly electricity fees — which could be lower than what they’re currently paying — directly support the generation of electricity via solar panels.


Illinois wants you to build solar panels was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


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