Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced yesterday that Marisa Novara will be appointed Commissioner of the Department of Housing. The appointment is pending City Council approval. Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel – who is now on a bike ride around Lake Michigan – reinstated the Department of Housing in January, which had been dissolved by former Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2008.
The Department of Housing oversees the development of new housing, monitors compliance with the Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO), administers homeownership programs and grants, and develops policy. All of the staff were previously organized in the Department of Planning & Development.
Novara was most recently a policy manager on the Lightfoot transition team, on a leave of absence from her job at the Metropolitan Planning Council. At MPC, Novara spearheaded the creation of the "Cost of Segregation" report in 2017, and the followup plan, "Roadmap for the Chicago Region".
The media widely reported on Cost of Segregation, which estimated that the Chicago region's economy is suppressed because of the amount of segregation, and that the economy could grow by $4.4 billion if we addressed patterns of discrimination in housing and transportation, and improved access to jobs and education. The Roadmap made recommendations on how to deal with the problems.
As the new Commissioner of Housing, Novara will have a chance to implement some of the recommendations in the Roadmap.
Before working for the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), Novara was a developer at the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation, coordinating obtaining funding for new housing and economic development projects in the North Lawndale community area.
Chicago developers may also recognize that organization's involvement in pushing for revisions to the city's Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) ordinance in 2015. Novara and her colleagues, Peter Skosey and Yonah Freemark, crafted the revisions to significantly extend the distance at which a property could be from a train station and remain eligible for the parking reductions and density bonus. (One other change was that residential uses could get an even greater parking reduction than the original version, adopted in 2013.)
At the time, MPC had also supported expanding the TOD ordinance to include bus routes, but that revision wasn't made until January 2019.
Top photo of Marisa Novara taken by Ryan Griffin-Stegink for Metropolitan Planning Council