The panel would explore ways to improve the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance, or ARO, which requires developers to include affordable apartments or condominiums in residential projects when they seek a zoning change or other assistance from the city. Housing advocates say the program lacks teeth because developers generally can avoid the on-site obligation by paying into an affordable housing fund or by building the affordable units elsewhere.
Affordable housing has emerged as a hot topic in Chicago and nationwide as apartment rents have risen the last several years. Lightfoot herself emphasized the issue in her campaign for mayor.
Three housing experts will chair the task force: Stacie Young of the Community Investment Corp., Juan Sebastian Arias of the Metropolitan Planning Council and Tony Smith of PNC Bank. The city is seeking volunteers to serve on the panel, which will include as many as 20 people and work for four to six months.
In Chicago, demand for affordable housing exceeded supply by about 116,000 units in 2017, according to the DePaul Institute of Housing Studies. Another problem, according to housing advocates, is that developers are not building enough affordable housing in wealthier neighborhoods with good schools and low crime. The ARO is supposed to address that.
Under the ordinance, when a residential project receives a zoning change or financial assistance for a project from the city, 10 percent of its units must meet affordability requirements. In some neighborhoods, the threshold is 20 percent.
But the ordinance includes opt-out language allowing developers to build the apartments or condos elsewhere or by paying into an affordable housing fund. Between 2015 and 2018, the ARO created about 800 units, a disappointing number, according to its critics.
Housing advocates argue that the ordinance should be strengthened to require that developers build more units on-site. Developers have argued that a tougher mandate would merely increase their costs, creating a disincentive to build more housing. Novara said the task force would consider the idea.