Chicago, IL

Lawsuit Filed Against Chicago Housing Authority Over Public Land Leased to Lightfoot's Billionaire Donor

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Morningstart inc. contributed $25,000 to Lightfoot campaign two months after City and CHA got zoning proposal through City Council
Chicago Fire PK squadPhoto byHayden Schiff/flickr [CC BY 2.0]

The Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) finds itself entangled in a lawsuit regarding a deal to lease public land that was earmarked for affordable housing for other purposes. The lawsuit alleges that the CHA and the Biden administration illegally plans to lease the land to a billionaire donor of outgoing Mayor Lori Lightfoot for the construction of a training complex for his professional soccer team, the Chicago Fire.

The land in question, long designated for public housing, was intended to be used to replace units that were demolished over a decade ago. The purpose of the land earmarked for affordable housing was to address the critical need for accessible and affordable housing options in Chicago. However, the lawsuit alleges that a "no-bid deal" was made with Joe Mansueto, the Chairman of Morningstar and owner of the Chicago Fire, even though the land was intended for public housing.

Tensions have been escalating since November, when members of the plaintiff groups staged a demonstration outside Morningstar's headquarters in Chicago following Lightfoot's disclosure of a $25,000 campaign donation from Mansueto. The complaint states, “This donation came just two months after the City and CHA pushed the zoning proposal through City Council.”

Mansueto and Lightfoot, who was unsuccessful in her re-election bid earlier this year, both attended a groundbreaking event in April at the location situated west of the University of Illinois at Chicago campus. The proposed project includes a performance center spanning 53,000 square feet, along with two and a half natural grass soccer fields and three artificial turf fields, as stated by the Chicago Fire. The lease agreement between the soccer club and the CHA involves $40 million in lease payments over a 40-year period.

The coalition of community groups that filed the federal lawsuit claims that the deal to lease the public housing land to the Chicago Fire violated civil rights. The lawsuit alleges that the city of Chicago and the Biden administration planned the lease agreement in contravention of the land's intended purpose, favoring the interests of Lightfoot's billionaire donor over affordable housing for the community. The legal action highlights concerns about the equitable distribution of resources and the preservation of affordable housing opportunities for the residents of Chicago.

The complaint states that by using the land for a private soccer facility that will only benefit a small group of people who won't lose anything without the land, harm will come to people with disabilities and Black households who “need and are more likely to be eligible for this housing.” This will deprive them “of sorely needed integrated housing opportunities” in an area that is already developing rapidly.

According to the plaintiffs, “Without additional commitments to create more affordable housing, more Black households are at risk of displacement, which will increase the racial segregation and gentrification of the area."

The specifics of the lawsuit include allegations of illegal planning and potential violations of civil rights. The coalition of community groups seeks to challenge the lease agreement and raise awareness about the importance of maintaining the intended use of public land for affordable housing initiatives. The lawsuit emphasizes the need for transparency, accountability, and adherence to the original plans for the land to address the housing needs of the community.

Mansueto, the Chicago Fire and Lightfoot have not been named as defendants in the lawsuit.

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