Mayor Lightfoot unveiled a plan on Monday to revitalize the LaSalle Street corridor between Washington and the Board of Trade building in downtown Chicago. Her plan envisions 1,000 new apartments with 30% set aside for affordable housing.
The area has been hit hard in the last couple of years by the C-19 pandemic with many larger tenants refusing to renew their leases. Currently 5M square feet sit unoccupied in the corridor and surrounding blocks.
Area landlords have consistently told city planners that there just isn’t enough money in affordable housing to convert downtown office space to Section 8 and other affordable housing units. The city in response touted the following.
1 – Tax credits for the rehabilitation of historic buildings
2 – Property tax relief measures for landlords who create affordable housing
3 – Low income housing tax credits from the LaSalle Street Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) District
But there’s a fundamental problem in the plan. Tax credits and tax relief packages only work if there are profits in the first place.
The people who own the buildings on LaSalle Street aren’t village idiots. No landlord in their right mind will go through the hassle and expense of converting office space to apartments if they aren’t going to make any money.
Let me leave you with this.
I’m old enough to remember a time when the simple act of walking downtown was an event. We’d put on our finest clothes on a beautiful spring afternoon to window shop and enjoy a Sunday Brunch at the Continental Plaza on the Mag Mile.
Birds would chirp in the trees on the parkway and the sun would shine as we strolled past the Watertower and the Tribune Building. We’d stop while crossing the Michigan Avenue bridge to take in the wonders of the Chicago River as it snakes its way through downtown.
And LaSalle Street was no different. Businessmen would walk briskly from one appointment to the next dressed in their finest coats and ties.
As a little boy I would walk there with my Mother holding one hand and my Grandfather holding the other. I once asked Mama what the men down there did.
Her answer was simplicity itself. She said, “They own and run the Midwest.”
But not anymore. Here comes Lori and affordable housing.
Our iconic landmark buildings that have been featured in gangster movies since the invention of moving pictures will now become Section 8 housing if City Hall has anything to say about it. But these initiatives have a basic and fatal flaw.
If you wanted to rent an apartment downtown would you spend $3,000 a month to live in a building filled with Section 8 tenants? The abject stupidity of these plans is palpable.
At the end of the day, I’d be surprised if any of our downtown landlords took the bait on this one. The money just isn’t there to get it done.
This will probably go down in history as just another headline crafted to secure votes for a political campaign. Afterall, the only true job of a Chicago Politician is to get reelected.
We’re all going to get through this. Let’s get through it together.
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