Chi Block Builder, Chicago's new program to boost the buying and redevelopment of vacant land owned by the city, has Aldermen asking questions about communication
Last week during the Chicago City Council Committee on Housing and Real Estate meeting, discussion turned to Chi Block Builder, a new program that is allowing residents to submit applications to buy vacant land owned by the city. Kathy Dickhut, DPD, stated that there were 2000 city owned properties for sale, mostly on the South and West Sides. Applications began being accepted in November. According to Dickhut there has been a lot of interest and traffic to the website.
Maggie Cassidy, DPD, reported that so far, there have been 325 completed applications, with about half of those being for side yards and the other half split among affordable housing, market rate housing and commercial. She added that there have been three webinars in English and Spanish to help applicants understand the process. They have also sent postcards to adjacent neighbors and put up yard signs at each property.
There were several questions from aldermen which suggested that they aren't happy about the communication between DPD and specific ward aldermen about the land sales. Alderwoman Dowell asked when DPD intend to alert the alderman about applications in their respective wards.
When Dickhut stumbled over an answer, Dowell remarked, "Don't hem and haw, don't hem and haw, Cathy. Just give me the straight dope." Dickhut replied that after applications closed, they would confirm all were eligible, check they were filled out correctly, then give them to the alderman. She added the priority will be for housing. DPD will also make recommendations to the aldermen.
Alderwoman Dowell followed up by saying that she thought that side yards and open space had the same priority as housing, and that the people who have been caring for the lots for many years should also have priority. Dickhut responded that was a discussion they could have but that housing is the priority and there is a priority for long term residents and side yards.
Alderman Maldonado said that he hoped that he hoped that aldermen would have some say in which applications are approved regarding market rate and affordable housing. He commented that he felt that informing alderman after the applications have been completed and finalized was too late in the process limiting their ability to have input.
He also expressed concern regarding vacant lots in his ward which he has put aside for many years for affordable housing. He stated that 12 lots have been committed but the rest haven't been identified and he thought they had been marked by DPD so they wouldn't be in the sale.
Dickhut replied that any lots committed by aldermen or which had projects planned for them already were not being advertised to which Alderman Maldonado responded that wasn't true. He said that he has gotten calls from residents interested in buying some of the lots he has put aside and that they could have an offline conversation about it. Dickhut wasn't aware of the problem but said she'd like to see what he's talking about.
Overall, the sense was that the aldermen weren't satisfied with the manner in which the sale is taking place and that the representatives from DPD weren't as knowledgeable about the process as they should've been.
The due date for the first round of applications is February 3, 2023. Recordings of the webinars can be found here.
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