One of the most respected members of Lori Lightfoot’s cabinet is leaving Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration.
Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara announced her retirement Tuesday after a four-year sprint that included leading Chicago through a pandemic that further highlighted the city’s shortage of 120,000 affordable housing units.
Novara did not return repeated phone calls, instead issuing a statement saying he was “proud of the work we have accomplished to advance housing as a human right.”
He points specifically to “the 18th & Peoria acquisition in Pilsen, strengthening of the Affordable Conditions Act to ensure affordability in high-income parts of the city, and the unprecedented 12 Equitable Transit Oriented Developments on the South and West sides in our last round.” funding.”
Novara said it was “important to me to set a vision for equitable distribution of affordable housing across the city” and she was “incredibly grateful” to Mayor Brandon Johnson for his “clear commitment to continuing and deepening this goal.”
Novara helped design the residential platform Lightfoot while serving as vice president of the Metropolitan Planning Council and overseeing Chicago’s $4.4 billion “cost of segregation” study.
It called for a phased real estate transfer tax to “create a dedicated income stream” to reduce homelessness by 45% and begin mitigating the 120,000 shortage of affordable units driving Chicago’s population decline.
Two months after taking office, Lightfoot withdrew that appointment.
He still plans to ask the Illinois General Assembly to empower Chicago to raise the real estate transfer tax on high-end home sales. But he plans to use the new projected $120 million a year in revenue to cover the $838 million budget gap he inherited.
Campaign promises broken.
Lightfoot had no success with General Assembly. He spent the remainder of his term blocking attempts to have a binding referendum on transfer taxes on the Chicago ballot.
Revival Project CEO Raul Raymundo (from left), Housing Department Commissioner Marisa Novara, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, National Equity Fund CEO Matt Reilein and BMO Community Loans Managing Director Pamela Daniels-Halisi during the groundbreaking ceremony of Casa Durango in the Pilsen neighborhood in September 2021 .
Novara spent the next four years doing little things — including launching a $3 million Tiny Homes pilot — that addressed the affordable housing shortage.
“This is what I like to call ‘small density.’ We make it easier. We are making it legal for people to actually use their coach homes for rental units or legalizing their basements or attics,” he once told council members.
“We’re looking for ways to creatively address the need for units and ways to achieve affordability that don’t involve queuing up for low income tax credits or lining up for housing choice vouchers, both of which are oversubscribed. .”
Novara is also doing some great things.
He championed an overhaul of the Chicago Affordable Conditions Ordinance that raised the bar for developers receiving municipal subsidies, municipal land, or zoning changes, and increased units large enough to accommodate families.
He pushed through dramatically improved transit-oriented development regulations and gave tenants up to 120 days notice before landlords terminate their leases or increase rents.
Another highlight of Novara’s holdings is Lightfoot’s plan to create $1.3 billion worth of affordable housing across the city.
There was also a 33-to-13 City Council vote in favor of a 297-unit housing development near O’Hare Airport that “makes a statement” on affordable housing and zoning control by council members.
During the pandemic, Lightfoot and Novara allocated federal aid funds for several rounds of rental assistance. They convinced housing groups, landlord associations and lenders to sign a non-binding “Housing Solidarity Pledge” to show “flexibility and restraint” in dealing with one another during a time of unprecedented hardship to prevent COVID-19 from triggering a wave of foreclosures. other. .
Participating landlords agree to offer a grace period with conditions that “avoid repayment at the end of the suspension period.” They also promise to waive late fees for missed payments and allow tenants who miss payments to amortize those payments over time.
Through it all, Novara is a relentless champion for fairer mortgage loans to break down the barriers of systemic racism.
During a City Council hearing on the matter in February 2021, Novara pointed to a study by WBEZ Radio which showed that banks lend 12 cents in Black neighborhoods and 13 cents in Hispanic neighborhoods for every $1 they lend to white neighborhoods.
Novara later said that his “concern” was that the study was followed by “lots of announcements about more money for South and West Side communities”.
“Don’t get me wrong: More investment in South and West side communities is clearly needed. But what is also clearly needed is painstaking, non-headline-grabbing, internal banking work to examine how your systems and structures perpetuate racist results and then get it over and over again,” he said that day.
“That is what we really want and need to see. And that is what our city deserves.”