Suburbs with walls | Bleader

Suburbs with walls

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A recent Illinois law requires the 49 municipalities in the state with less than 10 percent affordable housing -- all affluent suburbs of Chicago -- to come up with plans to make it easier for working people to live there. Charles Hoch, who teaches urban planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has read the plans submitted by the 36 suburbs that chose to comply. His report appears in the winter issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association, not available online to nonmembers. A 2005 PDF version of the report is here; a recent press release here.

Hoch wasn't impressed. "Only five of the documents described how changes in local housing policy objectives and regulations could foster affordable housing on local sites. Most plans included short bullet lists of generalized regulatory, administrative, and fiscal incentives. They used vivid language to explain their commitment to current [i.e., exclusionary] land use, and vague language to explain their commitment to affordable housing. Each had a unique and compelling description of the hardship compliance would create, and a derived and dreamy description of the policies and regulations they would use to foster affordable housing."

He gives details on Highland Park's plan, which is serious, and Wilmette's, which is not. He also decries the state's lack of follow-up: "In Illinois the state housing development agency received no funds to implement the act. The most innovative leadership came from the planners and community development activists selected from local nonprofit organizations and the few municipalities with affordable housing policies in place. These people were invited by the state finance agency to help ccordinate subregional workshops for local municipal officials and staff in the months after the new state law was enacted. The lack of active, dedicated, and competent state planning staff in Illinois placed responsibility for sustained planning support of this type in the hands of nonprofit and philanthropic agencies."

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