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Business leaders take stand on housing

The housing market in Chicago faces unique challenges. Part of the problem is a tendency to equate affordable housing with the failures of public housing in the past.  This inhibits support for even the highest quality affordable housing development proposals. Another part of the problem is simply the market itself:  escalating land costs in the region's high job growth corridors and other desirable neighborhoods, combined with the lack of a state housing policy to respond.

Whatever the total explanation, the numbers demonstrating the mismatch between where jobs are and where people can afford to live are startling: according to market analyst Tracy Cross, only three percent of all housing permits in metropolitan Chicago in the last decade have been for multifamily housing (both for rent and for sale). This compares to 22 percent nationwide.

Chicago Metropolis 2020, led by King Harris (who last year received one of Bank of America's prestigious Leadership Awards for his Employer-Assisted Housing (EAH)  partnership with the Metropolitan Planning Council (click here for more information), has recently released Recommendations for Developing Attainable Workforce Housing in the Chicago Region

Two recommendations relate to  ways business leaders specifically can influence housing, such as encouraging "corporate support for affordable workforce housing via employer-assisted housing programs" and expanding or locating "facilities only in communities which are addressing workforce housing needs."

But the paper also offers broader housing policy suggestions that are increasingly important to business leaders:

  • Zoning reform, a must at the local level to bring land costs associated with housing down
  • Code enforcement, a critical need in communities with aging single family and rental housing
  • Rehabilitation, the key to preserving the "trickle down" housing stock which will provide the majority of affordable dwelling units in the future
  • Growth planning, which must include planning for the workforce housing needed to meet population growth
  • State government incentives or mandates to assure that affordable workforce housing will be built in the future
  • Increased federal investment in programs that spur the availability ofaffordable housing.

The region needs leadership such as Mr. Harris' and that of his colleagues at Chicago Metropolis 2020. Whether one's primary concerns relate to workforce competitiveness or education, traffic gridlock or open space, welfare reform or health care, our ability to tackle these issues depends on the availability of a range of quality housing options near jobs and transit.

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