By Madeline Makoul
The City Council approved a new anti-gentrification ordinance that will levy a fee on developers who tear down certain kinds of buildings in Pilsen and the North Side 606 area. The ordinance reflects City Council efforts to manifest its vision of development without displacement.
Approved at the end of March, the ordinance imposes a $15,000 fine for developers who tear down single-family houses and a $5,000 per unit fine for tearing down multi-unit buildings.
Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez of the 25th Ward, which contains Pilsen, said the ordinance, long in the making, forms part of an ongoing effort to curb gentrification in the Pilsen area and surrounding neighborhoods.
Sigcho-Lopez noted the ordinance comes as rents continue to increase while developers build luxury (and sometimes poor quality) housing.
“The idea is to help disincentivize the trends of teardowns and demolitions, and with this [ordinance] we can help address the issue of speculation where developers have almost a free for all type of development,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “With these extra regulations, we can have a little bit more control of the type of development that comes through our community.”
This ordinance comes in conjunction with other, coordinated efforts, including a new zoning advisory board that will work to hold developers accountable. Sigcho-Lopez called these steps essential in addressing the “issue of corruption that has taken a big toll on our community. We have seen how developers, instead of being held accountable and to a high standard to make sure there are real benefits to the community, saw public officials as allies that they have in their pockets. That had a huge impact on the displacement of families and residents, and that [displacement] is not a natural trend, so we shouldn’t accept it as such.”
‘Step in right direction’
Although a step in the right direction, the fees associated with the new ordinance remain too low, Sigcho-Lopez asserted.
Moises Moreno, director of the Pilsen Alliance, described the fee as “peanut” sized, stating it is “obviously” not enough to deter developers but instead serves as a “slap on the wrist.” Moreno did agree, however, that the ordinance at least offers “a step in the right direction.”
“This is an inch forward,” he said. “For so long, developers have gotten the red-carpet treatment in our community with demolishing and creating all this luxury housing, with zoning changes, and without any community accountability. But those days are numbered—those days are over for the most part. We think this fee is a symbolic inch forward, and we definitely want to keep moving forward with respect to the community’s needs.”
Moreno noted instilling a community process is essential, especially as community organizations such as Pilsen Alliance and individual community members continue to struggle to be heard by the City before officials make decisions. While Moreno said aldermen including Sigcho-Lopez have been “great partners” when working on anti-gentrification issues that reflect community needs, the City has been less receptive.
He sees this conduct as a “lack of respect” from the City when it comes to communicating with the community. Concerns include not only details of ordinances such as this one, which Moreno said should have imposed a much higher fee, but where officials allocated the fees within the community.
According to Sigcho-Lopez, fees from the ordinance will go to the Chicago Community Land Trust, an initiative working to provide low and moderate-income individuals and families with a chance to purchase houses.
Moreno said it is essential the community ensures ordinance fees go to areas needing them most because the neighborhood must be able to see tangible effects from fees and officials must consider neighborhood residents’ input.
“Is this really a system we trust? Not so much,” Moreno said. “We are looking for ways” for anti-gentrification efforts “to be more innovative and community oriented in terms of how we address this issue of gentrification, and we are looking for new ways to do that, but the core of that is community folks coming together.”
Sigcho-Lopez said he is working for more community input within anti-gentrification efforts and noted a community process now exists to protect neighborhoods’ social fabric.
“It’s important that people realize their alternatives to these approaches to development where we have put profit over people every time in these decisions,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “When we talk about development, we have to look at the impact in the community, the sustainability, the vision we want to have in our community—and that vision has to be determined by the community in a democratic process.”
Both Sigcho-Lopez and Moreno are focused on the future as local leaders work to implement a more community-driven process. Moreno said Pilsen Alliance is working to lift the ban on rent control to help alleviate the rent burden on residents as well as advocating to improve how government calculates and assesses property taxes.
“Communities are in a constant struggle right now with work, paying bills, and family, and without that support—that real support that we need—we are always going to be struggling,” Moreno said. “Gentrification has a long lasting impact.”
Sigcho-Lopez said Pilsen and the surrounding communities long have been a part of the national conversations concerning historic preservation, which also must be accompanied by discussions around policy and affordability.
“We are not accepting displacement—it’s not inevitable,” he added. “We not only have a beautiful community architecturally, but we have a beautiful community made of people. The people are the strength and the social fabric of the community, and we need to come up with policies that preserve that beautiful identity. We cannot cookie cutter neighborhoods, we cannot replicate neighborhoods. These are unique to our social fabric, and people are demanding that we protect this community.”
Visit Alderman Sigcho-Lopez’s website at www.25thward.org. For more on the Pilsen Alliance, visit www.thepilsenalliance.org.