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Affordable housing creates rift in 46th Ward Election

With luxury developments on the rise, and low-income apartments eclipsing, affordable housing is one of the most important issues facing the residents of Ward 46.

Incumbent Alderman James Cappleman often touts the availability of affordable housing in Uptown, despite the fact that numbers show the average housing costs have risen sharply since 2011. The area has been identified by DePaul University’s Institute of Housing Studies as one of five neighborhoods in Chicago with the highest affordability gap. The increase in luxury condos, as well as other issues of concern throughout Cappleman’s tenure, has inspired five challengers to fight for the 46th Ward  alderman seat.

“I think the challenge we’re facing over the next couple years is how do we grow economically and retain the character that brought us to this neighborhood,” said candidate Marianne Lalonde.

Lalonde is a scientist with a doctorate in chemistry. She also maintains positions on boards and councils around the neighborhood.  She said that protecting and maintaining Uptown’s uniqueness is necessary, which is a sentiment shared by other candidates and many residents.

Steve Daines is a 28-year-old barista who lives and works in Uptown. Rising rents are a concern he fears could cause him to move elsewhere.

“I’m extremely grateful to my landlord for not having raised my rent astronomically,” said Daines. “I definitely feel like, if I were to move out with how much money I’m making, I would not be able to live in this neighborhood anymore.”

The changing demographics of the area is a concern for multiple candidates.

“The diversity that we see here, it’s along nationalities, and it’s along gender, and it’s along income,” said challenger Angela Clay. “But we are squeezing our most vulnerable population and the diverse population in this ward out.”

Clay, a community organizer, said that rising rents have made it difficult for her to continue living in the ward; an issue that has motivated her to run for alderman.  Her platform for affordable housing includes building more low-income housing as well as implementing rent control. She and the other challengers have been vocal critics of Cappleman’s use of TIF money, community development subsidies, for funding private luxury buildings.  Cappleman argues that this is integral to the economic development of the neighborhood.

“There’s the law of supply and demand,” said Cappleman. “We have to increase that supply.  Because the demand is so high, the builders are building something that is luxury.”

For Erika Francis-Wozniak, adlermanic candidate and CPS teacher, the property development that resulted from the Stewart School closure in 2013 had a personal effect. Many in the 46th Ward  hoped the once K-8 school would be converted into a community center or low-income housing, but it instead ended up being auctioned off to a luxury developer.  Tenants moved into the newly built apartments earlier this year and are now paying $4000 per month for rent in a neighborhood where the average resident can afford only a fraction of that cost.

“I saw this mom and she told me she went to the Stewart School,” said Frances-Wozniak, “She said, ‘When that happened it said to me that my education and my child’s education is less important than luxury developments’. It’s very indicative of the direction that James Cappleman wants to take our neighborhood in.”

Wozniak’s plan would allow luxury condos into the area, with a required 30 percent of the units being allotted for affordable housing. The plan would also put more funding into existing affordable housing developments.  A few of the challengers have similar proposals that require large portions of affordable housing in luxury developments.

Voters in the 46th Ward will make their decision Tuesday, Feb. 26.  Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.

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