PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday June 5th, 2013, 6:21pm

City Council Approves Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance, Parking Meter Changes

Here are some highlights from Wednesday's city council meeting.

Renters in foreclosed buildings will see some added protections thanks to the Keep Chicago Renting ordinance that passed the full city council Wednesday by a 45-4 vote. 

“God has brought us a long way,” Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said to dozens of cheerful housing advocates after the vote. “It used to take us two years to get something like this passed, but look at us now.” 

Under the ordinance, which Ald. Richard Mell (33rd) introduced last July, tenants can stay in their homes during the foreclosure process until the property is sold to a third party. The law requires that tenants be notified when their building is foreclosed upon and when it is turned over to a new owner during the process.

The ordinance has two main goals: to prevent new vacant properties from popping up in the city and help law abiding residents stay in their homes, activists said this morning before the council meeting.

“Renters are the hidden victims in this foreclosure crisis,” said Diane Limas of the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, which is a member of the Keep Chicago Renting Coalition. “We know that vacant, foreclosed multi-unit properties facilitate crime and gang violence in our communities, especially in our communities of color.”

Under the ordinance, lenders who acquire foreclosed buildings would have to pay tenants $10,600 per unit who are forced to leave their home before the property is sold.

An earlier version of the ordinance, however, called for a $12,000 payment.

Another option is for mortgage holders to keep the renter's current lease until the building is sold. The maximum rent increase tenants could see is 2 percent annually under the new law.

Daniel LaSpata with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association said the need for the Keep Chicago Renting measure is urgent.

In 2012, about 12,000 apartment units entered foreclosure in Chicago, he noted.

“That amounts to 33 apartment units every day,” LaSpata stressed.

Activists also say keeping renters in foreclosed buildings will help deter crime.

A report from the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing from late March found that between 2005 and 2012, the number of crimes that happened in vacant homes or lots in the city tripled.

Despite almost a year of negotiations between the Emanuel administration and Alds. Mell and Ray Suarez (31st), Burnett commended the mayor for his help with the ordinance. He said Emanuel’s administration is “ten times” easier to work with than the previous administration when it comes to housing issues and helping people stay in their homes.

“This is what the people want,” he stressed. “This is what the people need. Let’s keep Chicago renting.”

Big banks had been lobbying aldermen to vote against the proposal since its introduction, Limas said.

“The big banks squawk about everything, however they never offer any real solutions,” she added. “They makes suggestions that maintain the status quo.”

Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) said banks have been against the ordinance, because they don’t want to pay $10,600 to the renters when they are evicted.

“It’s all about the money,” he said.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) explained the banks are powerful enough to break the own rules they write.

“And when they decide that they’re too big to fail, we bail them out,” Pawar said before the meeting. “I think this ordinance has leveled the playing field and gives the little guy a chance to write the rules too.”

The ordinance takes effect 90 days after its passage and publication.

Parking Meter Changes Approved

After more than an hour of debate, the city council approved Emanuel’s adjustments to the city’s parking meter deal by a 39-11 vote.

Multiple aldermen applauded Emanuel for challenging the meter company, yet others raised concerns that Chicago Parking Meters LLC (CPM) could be getting another “windfall.”

The changes, which include free parking for most parts of the city on Sundays and a pay-by-cell option, are part of an overall city settlement with CPM over outstanding legal disputes. 

Emanuel and an independent analysis from Navigant Consulting, which the city hired, say the settlement will save taxpayers $1 billion over the remaining 71 years of the contract, which former mayor Richard M. Daley inked in 2008.

In exchange for free parking on Sundays, paid parking will be extended to midnight in the Streeterville and River North areas between the Chicago River to the south, Division Street to the north, the lake to the East, and the Chicago River to the west.

Metered parking currently running until 9 p.m. would be extended to 10:00 p.m. in other parts of the city. But meters currently paid up until 6 p.m. would not be extended.

Drivers will still have to pay to park on Sundays, however, in parts of the city bordered by North Avenue, Halsted Street, Roosevelt Road and the lakefront.

The free Sunday parking would take effect July 1.  The future pay-by-cell option is expected to include a 35 cent fee per transaction.

“Mr. Mayor I want to commend you and commend your staff for the great job that they did in standing up and doing something that we thought couldn’t be done — making the parking meter people give us back some money, making them change, making them do something for the city of Chicago,” Burnett said.

But Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), who voted ‘no’ for the proposal, said these changes to the agreement may be “the last nail in the coffin” in any flexibility the city might have in finding a way out of the contract in the future.

"Some lemons shouldn't be made into lemonade," Fioretti said, referring to how Emanuel has described changes to the deal. "Some lemons should be returned to the store for a refund."

The free Sundays and extended meter hours is part of a larger agreement, which says the city will pay CPM $63.8 million for years of lost revenue to the parking meter company. CPM says it is owed the revenue due to out-of-commission parking spaces from construction and disabled parking, among other reasons.

The council’s Progressive Reform Caucus has done its own cost analysis of the settlement proposal, which found CPM stands to gain up to $9 million a year as a result of the extended meter hours. That means the company could collect up to $360 million over the life of the agreement.

“I don’t think anyone here is interested in handing the parking meter company yet another windfall,” Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said during the debate. His ward incorporates a large swath of where meters will be extended to midnight.

Leading up to Wednesday’s vote, some aldermen raised concerns that the free Sunday parking could hurt businesses on commercial strips in their neighborhoods. For example, drivers may leave their cars parked for hours or all day in front of businesses, critics have said.

In response to the concern, Emanuel has said individual aldermen would be able opt out of the free parking on Sundays in their wards.

During the debate, Ald. Joe Moore (49th) admitted that he was “one of the guilty ones" who voted for the original parking meter deal in 2008. He added that he was wrong to vote for the deal, and he regretted it.

But he said he was voting in favor of the settlement proposal Wednesday because it will be good for the city's future generations.

He added that current Chicago aldermen would not be around 71 years from now when the "champagne corks pop" and the city is finally out of the deal.

“We owe it to our children and our children’s children to do the financially responsible thing,” he said.

In addition to Fioretti and Reilly, Alds. Leslie Hairston (5th) Scott Waguespack (32nd) Rey Colon (35th) Michele Smith (43rd) Tom Tunney (44th), John Arena (45th), Ameya Pawar (47th), Harry Osterman (48th) and Debra Silverstein (50th) voted 'no' for the deal.

Latino Caucus Teams Up With Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

The Chicago City Council Latino Caucus and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) say they are forming a government-community partnership in order to help eligible immigrants apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) as well as U.S. citizenship.

ICIRR’s community partners, such as service providers, churches and schools, will also be part of the collaboration.

DACA impacts roughly 75,000 students in the state, said ICIRR CEO Lawrence Benito.

Under the DACA initiative, which President Barack Obama announced last June, young people who live in the country illegally, were brought here as children, have graduated from U.S. schools and meet other qualifications would see temporary relief from deportation.

And as Congress moves to pass comprehensive immigration reform, members of the Latino caucus and ICIRR say the community-government model could also help assist some 550,000 immigrants in Illinois apply for legal status once the legislation passes.

Benito said the state must not wait until immigration reform happens to start planning for the legislation’s implementation.

The community-government partnership is about “building the infrastructure we need" to serve the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants in Illinois, he said.

Suarez said the 13 members of the Hispanic caucus would help reach out to immigrant youths about DACA and assist them in registering to apply for the program. The aldermen and their staff would also assist in helping legal and permanent residents who hold green cards apply for U.S. citizenship. 

At least one staff member from each aldermanic office will be trained by ICIRR on how to fill out the necessary paperwork for the DACA and citizenship applications. Those staff members will then devote five to 10 hours a week to strategic outreach, as well as efforts to register eligible DACA and citizenship candidates.

ICIRR member organizations and the Latino caucus’ aldermanic offices will hold at least one joint workshop to assist people in filling out the applications. The government-community partnership will then be evaluated after two months to see whether their goals have been met, ICIRR members said.

The Latino caucus will leverage institutions such as the city colleges, public libraries, public schools and hospitals where the outreach, recruitment, and registering can occur.

Ald. Danny Solis (25th), chairman of the Latino caucus, said  “everyone benefits” when immigrants integrate.

“Every new citizen brings 6,688 new dollars into the Illinois economy each year,” he explained.

Solis also called on U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) to vote for the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, S 744, which the alderman described as “sensible comprehensive immigration reform bill to fix our broken immigration system and keep our families together.”

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