In recent years, housing battles in Chicago have mostly centered around the Chicago Housing Authority's Plan for Transformation, foreclosures, and legislative initiatives like the Sweet Home Chicago Ordinance. Earlier this week Megan Cottrell of the Chicago Reporter honed in on a relatively obscure effort called the Below-Market Interest Rate (PDF) program, "one of Congress' first forays into affordable housing."
"Here's how it worked," Cottrell wrote of the program. "Someone bought a building, and in return for keeping that building affordable for 40 years, the government subsidized the interest on the mortgage. Sometimes, Uncle Sam actually granted the mortgage himself, and sometimes, he just paid a good portion of the interest." But for more than 1,000 families in Chicago, the 40-year timeframe is up; tenants are facing rent hikes of up to 40 percent if Congressional action is not taken. "To make their rent affordable, residents would have to move to a neighborhood that probably has fewer stores and jobs, lousy transportation, and poorer schools," Cottrell wrote.
A coalition of housing and community organizations have pushed the U.S. Senate to pass an amendent, now attached to the 2011 budget bill, that would set aside funds so that tenants in Below-Market Interest Rate buildings can access an affordable housing voucher. The coalition rallied outside of U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk's Chicago offices Monday, calling on him to support the amendment. So far, the coalition said in a press statement, he has declined to do so.