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After a decade, Chicago’s Housing Department returns to address affordability, segregation

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Mayor Lightfoot has tapped housing policy expert Marisa Novara to lead the department

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For the first time in more than a decade, City Hall’s Department of Housing returns as a stand-alone organization and is ready to take on the affordability and segregation issues that have plagued Chicago for so long.

Consolidated into other city offices in 2008, the Department of Housing resurfaced in former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2019 budget to help implement his administration’s $1.4 billion five-year housing plan. And on Tuesday, new Mayor Lori Lightfoot appointed its first commissioner: housing policy expert Marisa Novara.

In her prior role at the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), Novara oversaw the Cost of Segregation project, a 2017 study that concluded Chicago’s deep racial and economic segregation costs the city an estimated $4.4 billion each year. She also led a follow-up report detailing solutions for a more equitable city.

Lightfoot and Novara are on the same page when it comes to reform. Novara has argued for limiting the power of local aldermen to block projects with affordable housing in their respective wards—an idea Lightfoot embraced in her first executive order to roll back aldermanic veto power. Affordable housing is a major issue for Lightfoot, and Novara has called for increasing rent subsidies in public housing vouchers to help low-income residents find housing in more neighborhoods.

Lightfoot also appointed eight other senior staff positions on Tuesday, including Eleanor Gorski to serve as acting commissioner for the city’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD). A licensed architect, Gorski previously headed the city’s Historic Preservation Division and served as DPD’s deputy commissioner. Her design and preservation-focused resume may translate to a shift in priorities within the department, which was previously overseen by former zoning attorney David Reifman.