Mayor Brandon Johnson announces $1.25 billion plan for affordable housing, other development projects

CHICAGO – Mayor Brandon Johnson formally introduced a proposal during a City Council meeting Wednesday, which he said aims to further invest in neighborhoods across the city through affordable housing and economic development projects.

Johnson’s administration laid out its plan to borrow $1.25 billion to fund projects for housing, business, innovation and job growth, and cultural and community assets.

According to a presentation that laid out the Housing and Economic Development Bond, over a five-year span, $625 million will go toward community development grants, investing in small businesses, and into creating more jobs. The other half, also over a five-year span, will go toward affordable housing investments, including rental housing, homeownership, and addressing homelessness.

“We are going to invest. It is going to be incremental,” said Johnson. “These are funds that our area residents and community deserve. I made a promise and I’m going to keep it.”

The plan would also move the city away from how it typically funds development projects – through the use of tax increment financing districts – or TIFS – to pay off debt. Instead, it will use the money from expiring TIFS to pay off the debt from this bond over time.

Another major development came out of City Hall Wednesday, when an ordinance that faced weekslong delays, was approved in a 42-7 vote.

Nearly 150 dollar stores across the city will face new restrictions under the so-called “Small-Box Retailer” ordinance — a measure met with pushback by some in the community and on City Council.

19th Ward Alderman Matt O’Shea said the way stores are maintained differs across the city, with far more issues in areas of lower income.

The ordinance puts in place several restrictions. It will require dollar stores to place a placard on the outside of their building so that residents in the community can call to report any problems or concerns. It also imposes a rule that no new dollar store can open within a mile of another owned by the same company.

According to O’Shea, over a six-year span, dollar stores across the city racked up more than 3,300 code violations and more than $600,000 in fines.

“Those violations include, but were not limited to, the sale of baby formula that was six months past its expiration date, medicine more than a year past its expiration date. Those stores have also been charged with overtaxing and overcharging their customers,” O’Shea said.

Even still, many fines and violations later, O’Shea said the issues haven’t been resolved.

“Drive past any one of those 149 stores today and you’ll likely see overflowing dumpsters, broken fences, broken exterior lights,” said O’Shea.

He said he believes the issues at hand are adding to an already great task of combatting food deserts in lower-income areas.

20th Ward Alderwoman Jeanette Taylor said not only has she witnessed problems with these stores, but her own daughters have also had firsthand experience.

She told councilmembers one daughter was asked to bring her gun, which she has a concealed carry license for, to work for protection. Meanwhile, her other daughter, she said, was robbed at gunpoint

“Imagine what it was like to get a call that my daughter was in the back with her carry conceal while my other daughter was at the front getting robbed,” Taylor said. “Our community needs this store, but not to the point where we are compromising who we are and accepting less.”

Taylor also said a man was shot and killed at a dollar store near her house, but no support was given to staff there. She supported O’Shea in his push to get a vote on the ordinance rather than dealing with yet another delay.

“This incident had nothing to do with the store, so tell me how I’m supposed to give you another month. My daughter probably wouldn’t have had another month,” Taylor said.

38th Ward Alderman Nick Sposato showed his support for the ordinance, however, he said he did get results when he spoke with the representatives from the dollar store in his ward and encouraged others to do the same. Some said, they have tried, and failed to get answers and results.

Several organizations, including the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, shared a joint statement with WGN News on the Small Box Retailer Ordinance.

“Today, the City of Chicago wrote another chapter in its ongoing narrative of hostility to retailers, passing a misguided proposal that will address a problem in one ward while depriving residents of many other wards convenient access to affordable necessities. This sets a dangerous precedent for future job growth in Chicago. This was all avoidable and will severely limit opportunities for new economic development in communities where those investments are needed most.”

At the City Council meeting Wednesday, several staff appointments were confirmed, including Lissette Castañeda as the Department of Housing commissioner.

“I’m excited about this appointment, I’m excited about all the work and the relationships that you are going to be able to bring to this great city, but more importantly, make sure housing is a right in the third largest city in the country, and not a privilege,” said 25th Ward Alderwoman Jessica Fuentes.

Councilmembers also confirmed Alfonzo “Randy” Conner Jr. as commissioner of the Department of Water Management, a move met with great praise and support by alders.

“I think we need more folks like you, particularly given the challenges that our city is facing. I know you have no small task ahead of you, but I know you’re ready for it,” said 22nd Ward Alderman Mike Rodriguez.

Chicago News