Can Chicago End Homelessness?

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Yarka Vendrinska / PDIPHOTOS

A homeless man rests in an industrial Chicago neighborhood..

Is Chicago Mayor Richard Daley really serious about his pledge to rid the Windy City of homelessness by 2012?

Some observers weren't so sure after the battle over affordable housing played out between Daley and many of his doubters earlier this month in the Chicago City Council. On its face, the notion of requiring most new housing developments to reserve at least 10% of their space for people earning less than the city's median income of $75,000, as Daley and his backers proposed, would seem like a good idea. But while the ordinance would create an estimated 1,000 new affordable housing units each year, critics say it isn't nearly enough to help Daley fulfill his ambitious promise made more than four years ago. Why not set aside 15% and lower the income threshold to $60,000, opponents urged in a fight bitter enough to force a special City Council meeting.

Daley, sworn in Monday to his record sixth term, ended up easily getting his way. But the victory riled some critics of his campaign against homelessness, who feel that Daley's promise — made just before the 2003 elections — has been as much about politics as policy, a showpiece meant to win favor in a city of favors, and help bring the 2016 Summer Olympics to the city.

Forcing the special meeting played directly to the Mayor's hand, since it came before a new council took office, including many aldermen who ran on a platform of higher wages and more affordable housing. Daley warned the new council Monday not to let the politics of yesteryear, of famously angry council wars, infiltrate the new body. But there is far more independence in the 50-member chamber now, with nine newcomers, including the wife of Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. And many are promising to hold Daley firm on his twin promises to wipe out homelessness and create affordable housing, even as public housing projects are being rapidly demolished and vanishing from the cityscape.

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