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Where is Chicago’s affordable housing? A new city tool details data from the last decade

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Datasets show where the city needs to improve the Affordable Housing Ordinance

Affordable housing is at the center of Mayor Lightfoot’s agenda, and under the Department of Housing a new online tool to keep developers accountable and help residents find housing launched earlier this month.

The affordable housing dashboard illustrates dense data that hasn’t been easily available or comprehensively published by the city before. Users can find the status of projects part of the Affordable Requirement Ordinance (ARO) and see the totals of in-lieu fees which are paid by developments that opt out of building affordable housing. These two datasets show a broader picture of Chicago’s affordable housing, and more importantly where policies need to be improved.

If you aren’t familiar, here’s a quick explanation of how the ARO currently operates. A developer is required to build a certain percentage of affordable housing if their project receives financial assistance from the city, requires a zoning change, or involves city-owned land. Developers can also opt out by paying a in-lieu fee which goes into an Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund. That fund helps maintain and preserve other affordable units across Chicago.

Users working in the dashboard can breakdown ARO units by status (proposed, approved, under construction, and completed) and community area since 2008. The data on in-lieu fees is can be filtered by year and location. The gathering of this information in one place is a big step for the city, which has been criticized for its lack of affordable housing for its lowest income households.

In the last decade, the ARO program is only responsible for 444 completed units, most of them one-bedrooms and studios concentrated in areas where there is a lot of development. Neighborhoods without big development projects don’t benefit from ARO and it hasn’t supplied much in family-sized housing. In an analysis by DePaul University’s Institute of Housing, researchers show that overall affordable housing in Chicago is shrinking and low-income renters are leaving the city.

The city hopes that the tool will help it’s new housing task force which will meet for the first time in early December. After a call for applications, 200 housing advocates, developers, and community leaders applied. The group will be responsible for evaluating the effectiveness of ARO and making recommendations to the city on how to improve it.

“The new dashboard informs about past projects, as well as provides information to help shape the future of affordable housing in Chicago,” said Marisa Novara, the commissioner of the Department of Housing.