Pilsen and Little Village Preservation Strategy

UPDATED Feb. 8, 2019

The Pilsen and Little Village Preservation Strategy is a comprehensive, community-based effort to preserve the culture, character and affordability of the Midwest’s largest Mexican community.

Planned for the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods on Chicago’s Southwest Side, the multi-faceted strategy includes:

  • Enhanced affordability requirements for market rate housing developments
  • New housing resources to help existing residents avoid displacement caused by gentrification
  • A designated landmark district to preserve the area’s unique architecture
  • An industrial modernization strategy to increase sustainable, head-of-household jobs
  • Open space improvements that enhance neighborhood character and livability

The first portions of the strategy were introduced to City Council by Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Nov. 14, 2018, with the support of three local aldermen, Daniel Solis, Ricardo Muñoz and George Cardenas.

Over the last 50 years, Pilsen and Little Village have evolved as the center for Mexican life in Chicago, following previous waves of immigrants that included Czechs and Bohemians beginning in the late 19th century. More than 80 percent of their 115,000 residents identify as Latino, compared to 29 percent citywide, according to the American Community Survey.

More recently, Pilsen, and to a lesser degree Little Village, have been subject to gentrification pressures from upwardly mobile, non-Latino residents attracted to the area’s culture and urban authenticity, as well as from business investors catering to visitors and tourists.

Several of the strategies are identified in the Pilsen and Little Village Action Plan, completed in 2017 by the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) through extensive community participation.

Details about the strategies and their progress are outlined below.

Affordable Requirement Ordinance (ARO) Pilot

The five-year pilot program will increase the City of Chicago’s required affordability component for large residential projects within a 7.2-square mile area in Pilsen and Little Village. The affordability requirement will increase from 10 to 20 percent of total units, with new provisions to incentivize the number of family-sized units in each project.

At least half of the required affordable units, or 10 percent of the total unit count, would have to be built on site. The remainder could be covered by in-lieu fees, which would rise by $50,000 to about $180,000 per unit in Pilsen and about $102,000 per unit in Little Village.

The pilot area boundaries in Pilsen would generally be bounded by Peoria Street, 16th Street, the Sanitary and Ship Canal and Western Avenue. The boundaries in Little Village would generally be bounded by Western Avenue, the Metra (BNSF) tracks, the Stevenson Expressway and the Chicago city limits. A map outlining the proposed boundaries is available at this link.

The pilot was introduced to City Council on Nov. 14, 2018. If approved in December, it would go into effect Jan. 1, 2019.

Affordable Housing Resources on Behalf of Existing Residents

In conjunction with the ARO pilot, the City is looking to target several preservation programs in Pilsen and Little Village to preserve affordable rental and for-sale housing for existing residents.

The strategy will also prioritize outreach to area homeowners by the Chicago Community Land Trust, which provides reduced property taxes in exchange for long-term affordability, and to low-income tenants by the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund, which provides rental subsidies on their behalf.

Pilsen Landmark District Designation

The proposal would protect the historic character of portions of 18th Street, Blue Island Avenue, and other streets through a formal City of Chicago landmark district designation, which will require Landmarks Commission review of local building projects. Answers to frequently asked questions about landmark designation can be found here (Spanish and English versions are attached).

The proposed district, which is characterized by Baroque-inspired mixed-use and residential buildings constructed between 1875 and 1910, was granted initial landmark status by the Landmarks Commission at its meeting on Dec. 6, 2018. A map of the proposed district is available here.

On Jan. 10, 2019, the Department of Planning and Development presented a report to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks stating that it supports the designation of the Pilsen Historic District as a Chicago Landmark as part of a comprehensive strategy to preserve the rich culture and historic architecture of the neighborhood, while keeping it affordable for residents and promoting economic opportunities for future growth. A copy of the report is available here (Spanish and English versions are attached). 

On February 7, 2019, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks adopted a Preliminary Summary of Information for the district which outlines its history and architectural character. This report also includes a building catalog and an inventory of murals within the district.  

The designation will make property owners eligible for multiple incentives to preserve their historic buildings. More information on those programs is available here. (Spanish and English version are attached).

Industrial Corridor Modernization

The ongoing initiative seeks creative strategies to enhance employment, transportation and other amenities within the neighborhoods’ two industrial corridors to foster job-intensive uses that support families and the regional economy.

The process was initiated in the Little Village Industrial Corridor in April 2018, with a framework plan for regulatory land use improvements anticipated in early 2019. The planning process for the Pilsen Industrial Corridor is expected to begin in 2019.

Open Space Enhancements

The strategy will work to complete the Paseo’s planned route along an underutilized rail line from 16th Street in Pilsen to 31st Street in Little Village while connecting new and existing parks through community-based designs that embrace local culture through art and programming.

An ordinance was introduced to City Council on Nov. 14, 2018, that will authorize the City to acquire four-miles of the route from BNSF Railway.

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