Commission approves housing plan for 5150 N. Northwest Hwy; segregation a key issue in the debate
by BRIAN NADIG
The Chicago Plan Commission at its Sept. 13 meeting unanimously approved a controversial plan to build a seven-story, mixed-income housing complex at 5150 N. Northwest Hwy. which some supporters say will help end the area’s segregation.
Neighbors for Affordable Housing member Michael Rabbitt asked commission members not to give in to the history of segregation which has “haunted” the community and which project opponents try to mask by saying that their concerns are related to school overcrowding, density and traffic congestion. Rabbitt said that those who voice those concerns to affordable housing projects are using a standard playbook which is intended to protect “systemic racism,” echoing recent public comments by Alderman Ameya Pawar (47th).
Vote yes and be on the right side of history,” Rabbitt told the commission.
Last year Alderman John Arena (45th), who supports the proposal, signed a pledge to bring at least 50 new Chicago Housing Authority units to the ward in an effort to help end segregation. The proposed 75-unit building would include a mix of market-rate, affordable and CHA units, with monthly rents ranging from $240 to $2,200.
Project opponent Jim Parker testified that thousands of community members oppose the project and that the community has been unfairly characterized as racist despite its diverse population.
“Race is always brought up. Look at the local schools,” Parker said, adding that the typical area school is about 40 percent white and 40 percent Hispanic.
Gladstone Park Neighborhood Association president Joe DiCiaula testified that the proposal should not even be before the commission because Arena had the property “illegally downzoned” to stop the original plans to have only a self-storage facility on the 1.54-acre parcel. The property’s owner, LSC Development, later sued the city, leading to a settlement agreement calling for a storage warehouse on half the property and a housing development on the other half.
DiCiaula said that the commission should delay any vote until the city finalizes a master plan which has been in the works.
Neighbors for Affordable Housing member Andrea Mitchell testified that the project addresses the need for “affordable, accessible housing on the Northwest Side.” All of the planned 75 unit would be either accessible or adaptable so they can be made accessible, and veterans would be given the top preference for the units.
One project supporter said that Northwest Side residents should “not have a monopoly on opportunity,” while another supporter said that said that the project would give greater access to jobs at O’Hare Airport to low-income families who cannot afford to live near the airport.
Arena said that his support for the project has been motivated in large part by a former Jefferson Park resident who wanted to remain in the community but could no longer do so, along with disabled residents who need affordable housing. He added that the project represents “only a drop in the bucket” of what is needed.
Former Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association president Robert Bank, who is running for alderman in 2019, testified that the community does not oppose the concept of affordable housing but objects to the location for the development. Bank said that the development would be on “an industrial island” surrounded by a railroad embankment, an expressway and a busy thoroughfare.
Bank also charged that Arena employed the services of a public relations firm to “smear his own constituents as racists and bigots.”
The project’s developer, Full Circle Communities, plans to seek low-income tax credits next year to allow for the project. The state has rejected the two previous requests for the tax credits.
Meanwhile, dozens of city workers continue to face disciplinary action for what Arena claims were their racially charged remarks against the proposal.