Chicago wrongly limited affordable housing with aldermanic prerogative, HUD says

The city of Chicago wrongly limited affordable housing by allowing City Council members to reject developments in their wards through the use of their aldermanic prerogative, federal investigators say.

Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration is being asked to enter talks for an "informal resolution" of an almost five-year civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to a letter obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

"The department’s investigation indicates that the city affords each of its 50 wards a local veto over proposals to build affordable housing and that many majority-white wards use the local veto to block, deter or downsize such proposals," wrote Lon Meltesen, regional director of HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "As a result, new affordable housing is rarely, if ever, constructed in the majority-white wards that have the least affordable housing."

Meltesen called the Council members’ local veto "instrumental in creating Chicago’s patterns of segregation." He said that veto "disproportionately harms Black and Hispanic households who are far more likely than white households to need and qualify for affordable housing."

The investigation began after a complaint was filed to HUD by the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance and nine other advocacy groups in November 2018 that said Chicago Council members have "unfettered power over zoning, land use, city lots and public financing in order to decide where, if and how affordable housing is built in their wards."

That power, often referred to as aldermanic prerogative, is discriminatory and violates the civil rights of those seeking housing, the groups said.

In response to the recent concern from HUD, city lawyer John Hendricks said in a letter earlier this month that the complainants "fail to establish a violation of fair housing and civil rights laws" but that the city is "open to voluntary resolution."

HUD officials declined to comment on the letter, saying that "the case is still open and HUD has not issued any final determinations at this time."

A spokesman for Johnson didn’t respond to a request for comment.