Aldermen passed the Sweet Home Chicago ordinance out of committee by a 13 to 8 vote this afternoon, setting up an affordable housing showdown at the next City Council meeting.
Affordable housing advocates in Chicago had reason to celebrate this afternoon, as aldermen in the joint Housing and Finance Committee voted 13 to 8 to send a slightly amended version of the Sweet Home Chicago ordinance to the full City Council. The Sweet Home bill would require the city reserve 20 percent of the aggregate amount of tax increment financing (TIF) dollars it collects on an annual basis for affordable housing projects within the city's TIF districts.
The full council is scheduled to meet this Wednesday. If the body passes the measure and it survives a veto by lame duck Mayor Richard Daley, the bill would be the first major affordable housing policy ordinance to pass the council in years and reign in mayoral use of tax increment financing dollars.
Today's affirmative vote was a major step for the Sweet Home bill, which only came up for consideration today because Ald. Walter Burnett (27th Ward), its chief sponsor, had threatened to use a rare parliamentary maneuver called motion to discharge to force the full council to take up the measure. The housing and finance committee chairs had bottled the bill up for months, leading community organizers pushing the bill to press their case with protests and press conferences.
A relieved-looking Burnett cautioned that the Sweet Home ordinance still has a long way to go before it becomes law. "There's going to be a lot of parliamentary maneuvers going on," he said shortly after today's meeting.
Indeed, representatives of Daley's administration came out in full opposition to the bill at today's hearing and another divided vote is likely on Wednesday. Community Development Commissioner Ellen Sahli warned the bill would tie the hands of city planners. "I think we need to have some flexibility to look at what the community needs," she said, and that may not be affordable housing in every case. An attorney for the Department of Law suggested the bill would violate the state TIF statute by pooling the city's TIF dollars for a single use. "To basically dictate set asides is a problem," he said.
Burnett, who typically votes in line with Daley's views on major policy questions, roared in frustration with the administration's opposition to the Sweet Home bill today.
"You all wait until the ninth hour to say you have problems with this," Burnett said. "You're playing us like we're little kids. I think they've been playing with us ... basically they're saying F-U."
The structure of Sweet Home was also batted around by various aldermen in attendance today, including Ald. Ed Smith (28th Ward), who wanted "opt-out" language inserted into the bill and Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th Ward), who insisted the bill be altered to ensure it complies with the state TIF law.
Both voted in favor of passing the bill out of committee, contingent on those changes being included in the final version of the bill.
Julie Dworkin, a policy director for the Chicago Coalition of the Homeless and a lead spokesperson for the Sweet Home bill, said Smith and Thomas' demands could be accommodated without compromising the essential substance of the ordinance.
Supportive aldermen also apparently beat back an alternative ordinance to Sweet Home today. A five-page draft of a bill called the Tax Increment Financing-Neighborhood Improvement Fund Ordinance of 2010 circulated among some audience members, but it's not exactly clear if an anti-Sweet Home city council member planned to propose it today; it was not officially considered at the committee hearing. That draft contained none of the Sweet Home bill's underlying purpose -- reserving TIF dollars for affordable housing.
The ordinance that passed today was amended to remove language about the city's legal liability should it not meet the 20 percent criteria set out in the bill.
Dworkin, from the homeless coalition, acknowledged the vote on Wednesday could be a tough one. The number of aldermen backing the bill -- a majority has signed on in support in the run up to today -- "changes every minute," she said.
Outside council chambers, after today's vote, Sweet Home's backers cheered and began planning to return in force on Wednesday. Stay tuned ...