Affordable housing takes center stage at 41st Ward aldermanic forum on Feb. 13
by BRIAN NADIG
The gloves were off during a discussion of affordable housing at a candidate forum on Feb. 13 and constituent views on two failed development projects could play a significant role in who wins the 41st Ward aldermanic race between incumbent Anthony Napolitano and Tim Heneghan.
The Edison Park Community Council sponsored the candidate forum, which was held at the Olympia Park fieldhouse, 6566 N. Avondale Ave
Napolitano charged that his opponent would bring "mass density" to the ward and only recently took up the cause of affordable housing in an effort to gain the support of the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, which recently endorsed Heneghan.
Napolitano said that in a 2016 e-mail Heneghan frightened residents into believing that a subsidized housing project of up to 127 apartments was being proposed for Downtown Edison Park, leading to about 500 people showing up at a 41st Ward Zoning Advisory Committee meeting that usually sees about a dozen or so people in attendance.
"Everyone at the door was asking me why are you putting Section 8 in our neighborhood," Napolitano said. He added that 300 people left after they learned that the proposal, which never materialized, would have included 30 market-rate condominiums.
Heneghan responded that Napolitano was disrespectful to residents, questioning why there were at the meting instead of thanking them for coming out. "I’m glad I inspired people to come out and go to a zoning meeting," he said.
Heneghan said that while his e-mail could have been better worded, the project initially called for 44 units rental units and was a bad fit for the neighborhood. He said that the e-mail encouraged residents to learn about affordable housing and included a link to information on city’s affordable requirements ordinance.
Those earning less than $40,000 a year qualify for affordable housing in the ward and that affordable housing can be beneficial to seniors, veterans and young families, Heneghan said.
"Can’t we help people to strive to be what they can be because I know we’re better than that as a community. At least I hope we are," he said.
Heneghan described as shameful some of the comments he has received regarding his support for affordable housing. "Does race really have anything to do with affordable housing? Is that what they want you to believe?" he said.
Also at the forum, Heneghan said that he would have supported a plan, which failed due to Napolitano’s opposition, to build a 299-unit apartment complex near Higgins and Cumberland avenues. The developer sued the city, but later dropped the lawsuit.
Napolitano said that initial plans had called for no on-site affordable units in the project, but the developer included 30 affordable units in a failed last-ditch effort to gain the support of enough aldermen to pass the development through the council.
Napolitano said that the city’s existing affordable housing laws, which typically mandate that new zoning projects include 10-percent affordable units, are sufficient to meet affordable housing needs in the ward. He added that developers can also buy out of the requirement by paying into the city’s housing fund and that was what the Higgins developer was planning when the development was first proposed.
The 41st Ward already has a large number of affordable units when compared to nearby wards, and an increase in affordable requirements would lead to denser projects because developers would need larger buildings to make up for the reduced income from the below-market rate units, Napolitano said.
"We are leading the Northwest Side in affordable housing. We have more affordable housing than the (38th, 39th, 45th and 47th wards). That’s a statistical fact," Napolitano said.
Heneghan charged that Napolitano’s opposition to the Higgins project represented an abuse of aldermanic prerogative given that the ward’s advisory committee had approved the proposal. Napolitano has cited overcrowding concerns at Dirksen School as one of his main reasons for deciding to oppose the project.
In other issues, Heneghan said that the planned opening this fall of the Taft High School Freshman Academy at 4071 N. Oak Park Ave., was "a waste of money" given the available space at the underutilized Steinmetz Prep High School.
Heneghan also criticized Napolitano’s vote against the 2016 budget, which included a $543 million property tax increase to help alleviate the city’s police and firefighter pension burden. "He said ‘no’ to funding police and fire pensions … with no idea on how to fund them," Heneghan said.
Napolitano said that his constituents did not want the tax hike and that his vote served as a reminder that the city must think "outside the box" in coming up with new revenue streams, including a possible "LaSalle Street Tax" on certain financial transactions or a Downtown casino.
Napolitano added that Mayor Rahm Emanuel threatened funding for an addition to Ebinger School because if he voted against the budget but that he successfully called the mayor’s "bluff" and the funding was allocated.
Heneghan said that as a local school council member at Ebinger, he was petitioning for the annex "way before (Napolitano) ever got into office."
Meanwhile, Heneghan said that he supports the legalization and taxation of recreational marijuana, while Napolitano said that he is withholding his possible support until he feels assured marijuana sales would be properly regulated and efforts would be taken to keep the drug away from children.
Heneghan, who was an Elmwood Park firefighter 27 years, is the ward’s Democratic committeeman. Napolitano, who has worked as a Chicago police officer and a firefighter, is serving his first term as alderman.
The Big Oaks-Union Ridge Neighborhood Association will hold a 41st Ward aldermanic candidate forum at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, in Beyenka Hall at Saint Monica’s Catholic Church, 5115 N. Mont Clare Ave.