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Uptown in the News  

February 18, 2004
Shiller strives to keep affordable housing part of the mix
Following is an edited transcript of an interview with Ald. Helen Shiller (46th) by managing editor Jack Bess on where Uptown is headed in the near future.

With all of the development that's being realized now, what direction do you see Uptown heading in the near future?

There's been a lot of development, and there's been a lot of gentrification. But there's also been a lot of successful opportunities to preserve existing affordable housing, and in some cases to create some new ones, so that we have a mix of housing and will continue to.

Overall, we still continue to have a diverse community and it will continue to be diverse economically, racially and ethnically as it's been. The retail that's coming in is retail that serves everyone. Everyone has missed having retail that they can use. So if retail is coming in, that means the residential development is already happening.

Second, we have a unique situation here, which is that there has been gentrification. (But) because there's been so much involvement by so many at every level in the community, we will continue to have a diverse area, with development that includes people of all incomes.

So what the challenge has been is to attract retail on the basis of our actual strength---which is counter-intuitive to the way the market looks at it---to the notion that it's actually a plus to be in an area that has a diversity of demographics because they're going to get everybody. They don't have to wait to reach a certain market. In my mind, that's behind a lot of the stuff that's happening and I think we'll see more of that as we go down the road."

Can you control development in that way, to target the diverse neighborhood?

You can't but you can market it in that way. I don't think you can control development, but you can influence it. The market is too great a dynamic. I know how to influence it. That's really all I know how to do.

What is your vision for Uptown?

I encourage an aspect of affordability in everything that's done. A lot of that (developers) have done voluntarily, but I also have worked very hard at maintaining the housing we have, at preserving it and improving it and making sure there's a long-term viability to existing housing that's affordable.

There's the tax credit program which allows for rental units, and we're actually going to use this in Wilson Yard to allow us to be able to create housing for families, 2- and 3-bedroom units that are at tax-credit rates, which is 60 percent of the median range. I think the model we're basing it on is where there are 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom units and the rents go from $450 to $600 or $750, something like that. So it's the working families that would be able to stay there.

Our goal would be that, at the end of the 15-year tax-credit period, the buildings would become a co-op, so we're moving towards home ownership for people who otherwise would not have a chance for that.

We're also looking at some senior housing. Otherwise, Wilson Yard is retail. We're very hopeful that the movie theaters will be included. That was a very big thing that people wanted from the start.

Some people who have been aligned with you politically often said they don't want Uptown to become Lincoln Park North. Do see the neighborhood moving in that direction?

I think the entire city of Chicago has experienced a great deal of development in the last decade, and there's been gentrification everywhere. I'm not really sure what the future holds, as far as the economy.

What I do know is that there continues to be development. I work hard at ensuring as much balance as possible. A lot of our development includes affordability of different kinds. Usually it's the minority piece of the development. Some of the development has been the entire maintenance of whatever's existing, which could be anything from moderately-priced housing to lower-priced housing.

I think there will continue to be a mix of incomes. I think there will continue to be a pressure of the market that pushes things up. The private housing market has appreciated significantly and by all accounts will continue to do so.

But all those factors are not things unique to this area and there will continue to be a tension between people on the one end who would like to see as much affordable housing as possible and, on the other end, those who would like to see as much (market rate) as possible, and there's everyone in between.

In my mind, the most important thing is, in the end, we're part of a whole city and ultimately a world where human beings live in the same place. And a big part of our humanity is respecting and responding to the needs that others have. I think that a lot of (people) being judgmental often gets in the way of our solving problems, so from my point of view, we have to lead with a sense of humanity.

I'm not unrealistic. We live in a market-driven economy and I don't have control over that. I have influence over that but not anywhere near what most people would like me to have, no matter where they stand.

I represent a point of view intentionally, because if it's not there, then there's no representation. You can't have balanced development if no one is calling for it and if the people calling for it don't have a representative voice along the way, so it becomes part of the discussion.

It's not just a problem for our community. It's an issue for the whole city and hopefully that's a voice that I lend credence to.

Who's moving to Uptown these days?

I meet a lot of people who come in, and they really come from so many different places. Overall, I think there's clearly changes in the base income, which is higher than it was. That will continue to be the case because that new housing is expensive and people have to have more money to live in lot of the housing.

Of the new people moving into that housing, more of them are white than of any other racial and ethnic background, but not entirely. It's a diverse area so it attracts people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds who also have money.

Anything you'd like to add about Wilson Yard? (A community meeting on the Wilson Yard development will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19, in the student dining room of Truman College, 1145 W. Wilson.)

There's a lot of work that's been done based on a huge amount of processing and input that goes on in the community in the context of a lot of polarization because, in part, this is the nature of Uptown. We have a huge amount of input but some people are determined, for whatever reason, to not want to be very happy unless everything they want is there.

From the beginning, we said we are going to take all the things people wanted and include them in there and, hopefully, go find the people to do it. I think that what we'll present to the community includes virtually a piece of everything that people said they wanted, which also means it includes a piece of what some people want and other people didn't want.

In the first year of planning, we ended up with a report based on 3,000 surveys and focus groups and three workshops. Then we made a set of assumptions to summarize what everyone said and to include all the perspectives.

This is a development that includes a lot of uses people said they wanted. Probably several hundred jobs will be created, some of those will be part-time and some will be full-time. It will include a lot of uses, including green space and community space and (dealing with) what's already a big parking problem in the area.

We're going to end up with an area that's a hub for transportation and a truly transit-oriented development and hopefully pretty exciting. We're still in a process mode but not in one that brings you back to the beginning every time you start. We're starting at a place that we got to collectively and that moves on from there and that isn't afraid to take on new things but take advantage of the work we've done.

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