By Stephanie Choporis
Three out of Chicago’s five mayoral candidates failed to offer specifics during a forum Tuesday on how they would provide more affordable housing if elected to office, but some at the event said they thought it was informative.
Candidates Bob Fioretti, William “Dock” Walls and Willie Wilson fielded questions on supervision of the Chicago Housing Authority, supplying communities with equal housing services and one-for-one replacement of public housing before an audience of roughly 500 people at Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church in Bronzeville.
But with the exception of ideas for a responsive housing authority board, an economic development fund and better use of TIF savings, all refrained from specific steps if they were elected mayor.
“You can change things now if you come out and vote,” Willie Wilson said in response to an inquiry about effectively implementing resources for a single-room occupancy ordinance.
The audience was primarily made up of groups, such as the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, Jane Addams Senior Caucus and Logan Square Neighborhood Association.
During the forum, the audience’s cheers for Wilson, who is a multi-millionaire, were interrupted twice by a co-emcee due to his perceived evasiveness on the issues.
Based on applause and shouts, Walls, a former top assistant to Mayor Harold Washington, appeared to be a favored candidate. But in answering a question about communities’ equal access to the housing authority’s services, he instead discussed his daughter’s foreclosure experience.
“There ought to be a system in place such that the City of Chicago takes over that building and allows organizations like yours to manage those buildings so that they don’t end up as boarded-up houses and ultimately end up as vacant lots,” Walls said.
Fioretti reminded the crowd multiple times that he already implemented affordable housing. But when asked what he would specifically do to ensure one-for-one replacement of public housing units, he discussed the shortcomings of other administrations.
“The money’s there to build, and they haven’t,” Fioretti said. “CHA has the money, and they haven’t. The TIFs that we established around, they haven’t. I guarantee that we will make sure that it’s one-for-one replacement like they started to say way back when.”
Despite the candidates’ perceived lack of specific answers, some found the forum to be informative.
“I got a lot of good views, and I know who I’m going to vote for already,” said Gregory Wilson, 59, who represented the Organizing Neighborhoods for Equality: Northside group.
During the event, Wilson frequently waved a blue card, indicating that he favored a candidate’s position. But he said he particularly enjoyed Walls’ answers.
“I hope that they get this straightened out with CHA ‘cause I’m on the waiting list,” Gregory Wilson said.
Co-emcee Miguel Suarez, 64, of the Chicago Housing Initiative and Logan Square Neighborhood Association, said he also considered the forum a success. He said his major concern for the incoming mayor is one-for-one replacement housing.
“So much public housing has been demolished, and they’re trying to put a band-aid on a big wound by giving out these vouchers and all this other good stuff,” Suarez said.
“They need to start building public housing units at the same rate that they’re taking them down. And that’s not happening.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and fellow candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia did not attend the forum.
The city’s mayoral election is scheduled for Tuesday.