Chicago Cityscape's '1909' newsletter

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.


  • 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.


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.


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.

Every week a Cityscape membership (which ranges from the free Neighbor level to the paid Permits, Pro, and Enterprise levels, to the Reporter level) becomes more valuable as more features, more data, and more insight are added.

Here are 5 new things this week:

  • Planning heads up: Chicago is getting a new planning and development commissioner. Maurice Cox is currently the commissioner of the same department for the City of Detroit. Read about some of his initiatives in Detroit. Alex Nitkin, writing for The Daily Line now, has even more to say about Cox. Cox will be nominated at the next Chicago City Council meeting on September 18.
Maurice Cox, center, pointing, leads a group of Cornell University students on a tour of Detroit. Photo by Brandon Choy.
Maurice Cox, center, pointing, leads a group of Cornell University students on a tour of Detroit. Photo by Brandon Choy.
  • More property sales: We get our data from the State of Illinois, which updates the “PTAX” database quarterly. Q1 and Q2 are now both in the Cityscape database, so you can see records through June 28, 2019. We’ve also added new database filters and improved the search speed.
  • Help videos: We’ve made five short instructional videos on how to use the homepage map, look up building permits, use MLS/MRED boundaries, and find specific zoning districts in specific areas.
  • Chicago zoning map updated: Now when you watch the video to learn how to show only RT-4 zoning districts in Avondale, for example, know that you’re looking at the latest zoning map (updated August 5, 2019).
  • New community college maps: The 39 junior college districts of Illinois were added to our vast database (37,639 Places and counting). Find them on Maps Explorer.

What other maps and data should we add?

New chief planner coming to Chicago + new data has come to Cityscape was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

New measures were proposed to sustain affordable housing around the Obama Center

A coalition of South Side residents, known as the Obama Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition, have been pushing for a “Community Benefits Agreement” in Woodlawn to resist potential displacement and gentrification that may happen as a result of the incoming Obama Presidential Center. The coalition cited that “3,750 to 4,500 renting households in Woodlawn are at high risk of displacement. Half of Woodlawn’s current population,” and that neighborhoods surrounding the Presidential Center need “14,429 more units of affordable housing”.

Brand new Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) speaks to news media after making an announcement at City Hall. Photo by Owen Lawson
Brand new Alder Jeanette Taylor (20th) speaks to the news media after making an announcement at City Hall. Photo by Owen M. Lawson via Hyde Park Herald.

To address this, a new ordinance (O2019–5589) was proposed by Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) in City Council last week that would establish the “CBA Ordinance” (CBAO). This would not be a Community Benefits Agreement in the typical sense, in which a community group signs a contract with a developer. The city can enforce the contract if it’s recorded in the zoning entitlement. The CBAO, in this instance, would instead change Chicago laws and policies, without requiring input or funding from the Obama Foundation.

Chicago Cityscape explains how the CBAO could preserve affordable housing in Washington Park, Hyde Park, Woodlawn, and South Shore.

The CBAO states that 30 percent of new or rehabbed housing units must be considered affordable housing. Two-thirds of those 30 percent would have to be affordable to a household earning 50 percent of the area’s median income (AMI) and the remaining one-third affordable at 30 percent AMI. The ratios would be reversed for projects that are partially financed by the city.

A new ARO pilot area with new rules

In contrast with Chicago’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO), the option to pay an in lieu fee rather than build the housing is removed. All affordable housing units would have to be located on-site rather than a majority being allowed off-site, except when the development includes for sale units. The ARO pilot will activate for:

  • Rezonings that create 3 or more units (currently this is 10+ units for projects anywhere in Chicago)
  • Demolition of buildings that have 3 or more units
  • Substantial rehabs of existing buildings with 6 or more units
  • City-owned land, which must be developed as 100% affordable housing

In a Woodlawn community meeting on July 16th, there were some concerns that the CBAO would discourage the market from building new housing. Staff at the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement said “that by requiring developers to rent out 30 percent of their units at a lower price while not providing them subsidies, the ordinance could disincentivize developers from building projects in the area”.

Regarding these concerns, Alder Jeanette Taylor said the ordinance is “a working, living document” that is meant to be amended. Alder Leslie Hairston added that the CBAO’s goal is to offer “immediate protection” and would “be fixable after it passes”.

Most of the residential land in the CBAO Residential Area is zoned RT-4 and RM-5, which respectively allow for up to about three and eight dwelling units on a standard lot (standard meaning 25 feet wide and 125 feet deep). This means smaller developers that build as-of-right apartments are exempt, which tend to be moderately priced (although this often depends on the land price). The primary targets of the ARO pilot are developers that will build housing at higher densities.

A map of the proposed Obama Center community benefits agreement ordinance (CBAO) residential area, outlined in black. The boundary follows the border of the 5th and 20th Wards. Chicago community ares are outlined and labeled in red.

The 30 percent required affordable housing is higher than Chicago’s ARO (10 percent required) and existing ARO pilots in Pilsen, Little Village, Near West Side, Near North Side, and the Milwaukee Corridor (15–20 percent required). However, neighborhoods in the CBAO Residential Area such as Woodlawn, Washington Park, and South Shore have median rents that are at or lower than 60 percent AMI, which is what’s normally considered affordable for the overall city.

Since these three community areas have median incomes of less than $27,000, housing that is price for someone earning 60 percent of the AMI is instead considered unaffordable to existing residents. As such, the definition of what constitutes affordable changes in the context of these neighborhoods. The rent for 50 percent AMI is close to their median rent, while 30 percent AMI would truly be considered affordable for these neighborhoods.

A chart showing what rents are affordable in four Chicago community areas. Source: City of Chicago & Zillow

How it affects existing buildings

The CBAO ARO Pilot also differs in that significant rehabilitation of buildings with six or more units must include affordable housing. Rehabs of buildings have been used as justification for rent increases. Therefore, guaranteeing that a portion of the renovated units remain affordable can help mitigate this effect on current residents and ensure that there is stable housing. This still presents a cost burden on rehabbers, which is why the CBAO ordinance would also create a Community Trust Fund. The fund would offer loans or grants to preserve “preserve and/or expand affordable housing”, similarly to an effort in another gentrifying neighborhood. In a press conference for the ordinance on July 23rd, Ald. Taylor said funds might come from the city, bonds, the Obama Foundation, and other philanthropic organizations.

The CBAO would discourage demolitions of multi-family buildings with three or more units. If a building was torn and replaced by a new one, any net loss in affordable units would have to be replaced. Such teardowns of older building stock have contributed to the North Side’s loss of affordable housing. By protecting these buildings — which have naturally occurring affordable housing — more buildings could be preserved and push developers to instead develop vacant lots.

Unfortunately, this protection isn’t offered to two-flats, many of which are disappearing across the city. Two-flats have historically provided affordable rents for working-class families and are the only housing stock in the city to be declining. As such, one possible consequence of the ARO Pilot is that developers would be encouraged to deconvert two-flats to single-family homes (SFHs). This leads to a new loss of units, and the resulting SFH likely being higher priced than the original building.

In addition, a few portions of the CBAO Residential Area are zoned for RS-1, -2, and -3 (about 10 percent of the land area), meaning that only single-family houses can be built there. Given that some new single-family houses are being sold in the area for nearly $600,000, few existing residents can afford them. Construction of and deconversion to pricey single-family houses have contributed to displacement of residents in other neighborhoods. To remedy the deconversions and teardowns that remove affordable units, the CBAO could implement deconversion fees, which was only proposed one other time, in 2017, in Logan Square.

City-owned land

The ARO pilot would require city-owned land to be redeveloped with 100 percent affordable housing. There has been precedent for this in Logan Square where a 100 percent affordable housing TOD is proposed on city-owned land next to the Blue Line, by selling the land to a non-profit for $1 (the project is funded by TIF, Low Income Housing Tax Credits, and the Chicago Housing Authority). The same could be replicated in the CBAO Residential Area given that in the Woodlawn community area alone, the city owns about 50 acres across 145 pieces of vacant land.

Cooperative tenant purchasing

The CBAO would also stipulate how multi-family buildings are sold. The CBAO incentivizes the owner of the building to sell to existing tenants, a tenants association, or a “Qualified Purchaser” by exempting the building from property transaction fees. Selling the building to existing tenants would ensure that they retain their lease, and would assist ownership among low-income residents. Given that only 20% of Woodlawn properties are owner-occupied, this could help build and maintain community.

The city would have to maintain a list of Qualified Purchasers that have been committed to maintaining affordable housing, which would include “nonprofit organizations, for- profit companies, Community Land Trusts, and Land Banks”. If a purchaser has been known to unjustly evict residents or has received significant complaints from residents, they will be removed from the list of Qualified Purchasers. This is important given that the CBAO Residential Area has a history of evictions, where the eviction rate in the area is higher than most of the city.

The CBAO presents an opportunity to address affordability in low-income neighborhoods that have not been attempted elsewhere in the city, with room to improve in future amendments. Given that sections of Hyde Park are included in the ARO pilot, which are wealthier than surrounding neighborhoods, the CBAO could help further integrate the neighborhood. The earliest the ordinance can be up for a vote is at the next City Council meeting on September 18th. Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who campaigned in support of a community benefits agreement, said she will look over the ordinance before announcing her stance.

Coalition Pushes for New Affordable Housing Measures Around the Obama Center was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

In our massive database of Places — view them all on Maps Explorer — we’ve focused on including Place types that are relevant to real estate and business development and history and research. We’ve added Illinois State Police (ISP) districts to the Chicago Cityscape maps because they suddenly became relevant to business development of…cannabis dispensaries.

Sometime within the past two weeks the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) posted FAQs about recreational cannabis dispensaries, the first of which could be operational and selling pot to the 21+ over public on January 1, 2020.

One of the FAQs gives guidance to medical dispensary operators about where they can open a second location, for recreational weed.

Outside of a nine-county area around Chicago, where an operator can open a second location is dependent on the Illinois State Police district containing the current medical cannabis location.

screenshot from an Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation (IDFPR) FAQ
Screenshot from one of IDFPR’s FAQs.

Illinois State Police district 1 includes Carroll, Lee, Ogle, and Whiteside counties. Medical dispensary operators in this district can open a second site in those four counties, as well as in Bureau, Jo Daviess, La Salle, Putnam, and Stephenson counties. Four of the additional five counties border ISP district 1, and the fifth, Putnam, borders Bureau county.

A map of Illinois State Police district 1 that also shows the surrounding counties.

So now, when you look up an Illinois address on Chicago Cityscape’s Address Snapshot, the report will say which ISP district it’s in.

Screenshot of an Address Snapshot showing which ISP district the Naperville, Illinois, address is in.
Screenshot of an Address Snapshot showing which ISP district the Naperville, Illinois, address is in.

New Places: Illinois State Police districts 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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1909 was the year that Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett published the Plan of Chicago that forever changed the cityscape. The cityscape changes everyday and we track how and where on Chicago Cityscape.

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