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Anti-gentrification ordinance would freeze development near The 606 for 14 months


Supporters of the measure hope the pause will help long-time residents to stay in their homes. But will it work?

An elevated bike and jogging trail lined with bushes and wild grass, passing through a neighborhood of low-rise buildings.
The 606 is a hugely popular neighborhood amenity. It’s also forced out long-time residents, say critics.

In an effort to curb gentrification and displacement around The 606, a proposed city ordinance looks to impose a 14-month-long freeze on new development near the popular elevated trail.

Sponsored by Alderman Roberto Maldonado (26th) and Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), the measure would prohibit new zoning changes, construction permits, and demolitions (except for safety-related emergencies) for residential properties within a designated zone. The area would stretch a half-mile north and south of the trail between Kostner and Western avenues.

Gentrification near The 606 has been a concern since day one. Single-family home prices have surged since the abandoned rail tracks reopened as a linear park in 2015. Rents, property taxes, and displacement climbed higher while the area’s supply of more affordable two- to four-flat buildings dwindled due to demolitions and deconversions.

In 2017, Maldonado and Ramirez-Rosa pushed for an earlier ordinance that would have imposed extra fees on developers who tear down and replace more affordable multi-family properties with much pricier single-family homes. That measure never made it to the City Council for a vote.

The aldermen hope their current plan to hit the pause button on development near The 606 will allow city officials and neighborhood groups to identify new solutions to slow gentrification and allow long-time residents to remain in their homes. The ordinance specifically calls for a new study into “methods needed to stabilize housing and promote community preservation.”

Simply halting demolition and new construction as a means to address affordability issues could, however, have unintended consequences—especially when demand remains unchanged.

“By restricting supply in a high-demand area, are you at risk of adversely affecting affordability?” suggested Geoff Smith, executive director of the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University, in a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune.

Developer Michael Yeagle warned Crain’s that such a ban might prompt builders to bring new projects to other Chicago neighborhoods. Such a move could bring gentrification pressures to different populations already struggling with affordability.

Before moving forward, the legislation will need the support of both the city’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate and the full Chicago City Council. Those votes could happen as soon as this month. If approved, the freeze would then take effect on February 1 of this year and expire on March 31, 2021.

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