Communities search for solutions to housing crisis

Chicago housing experts agree: the nation's housing crisis has hit Chicago hard and something must be done about it.

"This is about human lives. This is about pain. This is about shame," says Jeff Bartow, executive director of the Southwest Organizing Project.

Bartow was one of many housing experts and community leaders that met today at Roosevelt University at a forum put on by the Chicago Rehab Network. They met to discuss community-based solutions to the lack of affordable housing and the foreclosure crisis.

Since January 2008, more than 1,000 foreclosures are filed each month in Chicago, and one third of those filings are in the rental housing industry, according to the Chicago Rehab Network.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-9, spoke at the event and says it has become impossible for working class Chicagoans to afford housing.

"One child in every classroom right now is facing homelessness because their parents are facing foreclosure," says Schakowsky. She also says she would be advocating for more money for affordable housing in the next fiscal stimulus package.

As the numbers of foreclosures continue to rise, statistics from CRN show that housing prices have been skyrocketing while incomes have dropped.

In 2000, the median household income in the U.S. was $48,071. In 2007, that number slumped to $45,505, a decrease of 5.3 percent.

When coupled with rising housing prices, that number means more and more people spending a greater share of their income on housing. About 40 percent of people pay more than one third of third of their incomes for housing, up 10 percent from 2000.

Leaders at today's meeting say fixing Chicago's affordability crisis needs to start with a focus on individual communities.

Joy Aruguete, executive director or Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation, says different neighborhoods have different needs.

"Chicago has many communities. It's a big city," says Aruguete. "Where you are should be dictating what the housing priorities in that community."

Arguete says inflated home values caused a decrease in the amount of rental housing that was developed. Now that the housing bubble has popped, she says the city needs to focus more on renters.

"Up until about a few years ago, 'rental housing' was almost a swearword," says Arguete. "Home ownership is good. It's wonderful. It's the American dream, but it's not for everyone, and it shouldn't be shoved down everyone's throats.

Other experts proposed rent control policies that would help people stay in the neighborhoods they have been living in for years. John Bartlett, director of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, says in near south neighborhoods set for potential redevelopment around the Olympics, he's seeing rent increases of around $100 a month.

"It would put controls on developers to say you can't just go ahead and raise rent where ever you want," says Bartlett. "They're trying to push people out now so they don't have to provide services for them later."

Experts say that while the foreclosure crisis has hurt the economy, it hasn't hurt the demand for housing.

Peter Fugiel, an economist and housing consultant on the city's North side, says affordable housing will remain a top priority as children continue to leave their parents' homes in their 20s and new immigrants continue to come to the U.S.

"There ain't nothing about housing that's out of demand," says Fugiel.

Staff Writer Megan Cottrell covers public housing for the Daily News. She can be reached at 773-362-5002, ext. 12.