The Ticking Time Bomb of Affordability In Chicago
When I was a kid, the year 2010 brought on images of space suits and hovercraft. If you had asked me at 8 years old what I’d be doing in 2010, I was sure to have described something like an episode of the Jetsons.
That’s what they thought back in 1968 when the built 510 W. Belmont, a high-rise building in Lakeview. The owner got a below market-rate interest mortgage, meaning that even though interest on the mortgage would be probably around 7 percent, he only paid 1%. The government made up the difference, with the agreement that the building would be “affordable housing” – below market rate rent for 40 years.
40 years sounded like a long time when they made the agreement. And it is a long time, except that now it is 2010, and not only do we not have space suits and hovercrafts, we haven’t created a blissful utopia where everyone lives in a safe neighborhood, regardless of their income.
The contract that kept 510 W. Belmont affordable expired last Thursday (read my entire story in this week’s edition of Skyline). And because the program that made it so was obscure, short-lived and never fully replaced, it expired for good. Now, the 277 families that live in the building have an uncertain future. Rent increases? Condo conversion? They’re hearing rumors, and none of them are good.
Forty years seemed like a good idea at the time. But now it seems We the People have invested millions of dollars in a building that may very well be turned into luxury units with granite countertops and whirlpool tubs for yuppies that already dominate the neighborhood. It won’t happen tomorrow – the market’s too poor for that. But we can’t guarantee the future either.
Now, we may be headed down that path again. Although it’s been shelved for now, the Department of Housing and Urban Development moved to privatize public housing earlier this spring. The plan would have given private businesses the contract to run public housing, taking it off the government’s hands, for 30 years. What happens after 30 years? Well, who knows… But 2040 is light years away, right?
If we’re going to make a big public investment – like building thousands of apartments or paying the interest on a multi-million dollar mortgage – those investments should last. Our public policy has become that of a skeezy car dealership – pay hundreds to lease a car for a couple of years and in the end, all you get is diddly-squat.
Citizens of Chicago, we’ve been burned with privatization before. Lets make this our motto: public investments should be controlled by the public interest, not by a profit-hungry corporation. Let’s stop leasing our city car and realize that decent housing for all isn’t a need that’s going to go away, in 2040 or beyond.