How’s Mayor Emanuel Doing on Housing?
This week’s flurry of analyses about Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first 100 days in office culminates with a WBEZ taping tonight of a forum slated for broadcast Friday morning on the station’s Eight Forty-Eight program. Emanuel and top city officials will attend the taping, and I will be there to toss in a few ideas about the mayor’s efforts on housing. Time permitting—and there are a lot of other pressing topics to consider—here are the subjects I’d like to touch on:
• Foreclosures: Chicago’s massive inventory of foreclosed homes threatens to undermine—or may have already undermined—two decades of slow but valid economic gains in many of the city’s moderate-income neighborhoods. In July, Emanuel’s administration acted to help stop the spread of blight by pushing for passage of a vacant-building ordinance that tightens up the rules on which entities with a financial link to a foreclosed home can be held responsible for its upkeep.
Just a few weeks later, Emanuel announced that he had secured upwards of $15 million from the MacArthur Foundation to launch the Micro-Market Recovery Program, which will target nine city neighborhoods that have been hit hard by foreclosures but still appeal to homebuyers. (Among them: Auburn Gresham, where a trolley tour this Saturday will showcase several recently renovated homes available at affordable prices.) In the announcement, Emanuel touted the program as a shift “from a house-by-house approach to a community-focused strategy, which will do a better job of protecting residents from the devastating impact of foreclosures.”
These two programs alone can’t reverse the damaging effects of foreclosures, but as two steps in an incremental approach, they are a strong start. Several sources in the housing realm have said City Hall will announce more steps in the months ahead.
• Lincoln Park Hospital: On the other end of the housing spectrum, Emanuel inserted himself into a long-running controversy over putting new upscale homes and retailers on the former site of Lincoln Park Hospital. The final deal that Emanuel wrought looks like a good plan for the neighborhood he used to represent in Congress. The developers get to restore the former hospital site to a vital and tax-generating use, and opponents of the way grocery trucks were going to be routed in the project got their changes.
• Quality of Neighborhood Life: Of course, housing isn’t only about dwellings; it’s also about the quality of the surrounding neighborhoods. Emanuel’s administration has already shown a commitment to upgrading and sustaining the city’s quality of life with at least three initiatives. In recent weeks, Emanuel has announced that employers—including Chase Bank, GE Capital, and Allscripts—will start hiring in the city, producing a total of 4,200 new jobs so far.
The mayor has also put the issue of food deserts in lower-income neighborhoods on the front burner. And improving on a pet project of his predecessor, Emanuel has committed to building protected bike lanes on city streets.
• Home Improvements: Finally, Emanuel and his family are personally doing their part to keep Chicago contractors working. They have just had the exterior of their Ravenswood home painted, and I’m told by sources that there is interior remodeling going on there as well.
Photograph: Esther Kang