Mayor Rahm Emanuel declined Wednesday to throw his weight behind a controversial Northwest Side apartment complex that has drawn angry crowds of opponents to City Hall meetings.
The proposed Jefferson Park building would contain the kind of affordable housing for military veterans Emanuel has championed, and the mayor was asked about it after joining with aldermen and veterans to make a pre-Memorial Day announcement of a citywide drive to collect household items for vets.
Instead of saying directly whether he backs the development, Emanuel spoke about the need for a lengthy process to build community support for such projects.
He sought to draw a distinction between the way Ald. John Arena, 45th, has handled planning for the Jefferson Park building and the way his administration took input for a proposed library with subsidized housing above it being designed in the Northwest Side Independence Park neighborhood.
“That (library) process has been incredibly… collaborative,” Emanuel said. “And I would uphold the process as one where you hear people and they need to be heard. As much as (Arena) is offering his idea, residents who live in that area need to be heard.”
The library and Jefferson Park projects have some differences. The library is being embraced widely in an area that hasn’t had a local branch since the last one was damaged in a 2015 fire. The city is proposing including 44 affordable housing units for seniors on the floors above the library on a busy stretch of Elston Avenue in a part of the city that’s relatively integrated.
The seven-story apartment building at a busy Jefferson Park intersection, on the other hand, is set to include 80 units rented at below-market rate, with 20 of those set aside for people with Chicago Housing Authority vouchers. Veterans with vouchers would get preference.
Opponents of the plan have said it’s too big for the bungalow belt community and blasted Arena for not listening to their concerns. Backers of Arena’s plan have countered that the opponents are really worried minorities will move into the apartments.
The well-organized opposition to the Jefferson Park project could also be making Emanuel reluctant to wade into the controversy as he tries to strengthen his support in relatively conservative, largely white Far Northwest Side neighborhoods ahead of a possible 2019 re-election run. Many homeowners in that part of the city are already upset with him for various tax increases he’s pushed through, for dumping lots of retired city workers from the city health care program and for re-assigning police officers to more violent areas.
And Arena has been one of Emanuel’s loudest critics on the largely acquiescent City Council, giving the mayor another reason not to come to his aid.
In other City Council action Wednesday:
• Three aldermen whose wards straddle the trendy 606 trail proposed hitting area developers who don’t maintain affordable housing with very high fees. The measure was introduced by Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno, 1st; Roberto Maldonado, 26th; and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th.
“The essence of this ordinance, I would hope, is it would slow down the pace of gentrification, slow down the pace of demolishing and asking for permits to redevelop high-priced homes,” Maldonado said.
• Six black aldermen who are supporters of Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a news conference Wednesday to thank the mayor for hiring two African Americans to key administration posts.
Alds. Carrie Austin, 34th; Walter Burnett Jr., 27th; Derrick Curtis, 18th; Emma Mitts, 37th; Michelle Harris, 8th; and Michael Scott Jr., 24th, said they wanted to give the mayor credit for quickly dealing with recent revelations of racist emails at the Water Department by replacing the commissioner with Randy Conner, an African-American. And they said they appreciated Emanuel naming Samantha Fields to be Budget Director after Alexandra Holt announced she was leaving.
• The Council approved a more lenient set of rules for the potential location of gun ranges in the city in response to a federal appellate court decision that struck down previous regulations that only allowed them in isolated areas that covered 2 percent of the city. Those seeking to open ranges will have far more options in business, commercial and industrial areas — with input from potential neighbors taken into consideration.
• Emanuel proposed making $3 million available to police officers, firefighters and paramedics who buy homes in economically struggling areas of the city on the South and West sides. Under the program, the city provide $30,000 no-interest loans to public-safety personnel, with one tenth of that amount forgiven for each year they stayed on the job and in the home.
• Emanuel, in another effort to take political aim at the perceived anti-immigrant bias of President Donald Trump, proposed an ordinance that would ban the city from keeping registries of the city’s residents. City workers and officials also would not be allowed to help other agencies create such a list.