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Group Fights Gentrification On Chicago’s Northwest Side

Latino families displaced from Logan Square and Pilsen are now calling the Northwest Side home, but housing prices are rising there, too.

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Portage Park Houses

File: A row of houses in Portage Park. A new group is fighting gentrification on the city’s Northwest Side, where many Latino families displaced from Logan Square and Pilsen now face rising housing prices again.

John Schmidt

As a housing community organizer on Chicago’s Northwest Side, Julio Rodriguez sees a familiar pattern with Latino families.

“We find a lot of folks from Logan Square have been moving here along with [others from] areas like Pilsen,” Rodriguez said. They moved because housing became more expensive. “One of the biggest needs that we saw was how cost-burdened our residents are,” he added. Families are considered cost-burdened if they pay more than 30 percent of their income toward housing.

Rodriguez and his colleagues at the Northwest Side Housing Center have offered clients homebuyer education and housing counseling. But that hasn’t been enough to help people stave off displacement, so the organization is forming a new community development corporation to serve Belmont Cragin and surrounding neighborhoods.

“We said we’re going to do something. It has to be now before it’s too late. A lot of times when gentrification happens, it’s really at the onset where things are completely unaffordable,” Rodriguez said.

Displacement is an acute issue for Latinos in Logan Square, Pilsen and Avondale — the city’s three leading communities for Latino population decline in recent years. Collectively, Latino population has fallen by about 14,000 in those communities since 2010, according to a WBEZ analysis of census data released in December.

As Rodriguez noted, Latino residents have increased in several Northwest Side communities like Belmont Cragin, Dunning and Portage Park. In those three communities, collectively, Latino population has grown by more than 6,000 since 2010, according to WBEZ’s analysis.

One of the priorities for the CDC is to create a community land trust. The CDC would purchase properties and allow someone to buy the home at a price less than market rate. Equity in the home is capped when sold. The idea is that the home could be affordable to families in perpetuity, Rodriguez said.

The new CDC’s focus is on access to affordable housing and small business development. According to Geoff Smith, executive director of the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University, Belmont Cragin is at moderate risk for displacement. Housing prices there are rising above the citywide average.

Other service areas for the CDC are the Portage Park, Avondale, Norwood Park and Jefferson Park communities — areas with median incomes higher than the citywide average but also among those with higher poverty rates.

Housing activists say there isn’t enough multi-family rental housing on the Northwest Side. And pushing for it may come at a political cost. Ald. John Arena, 45th Ward, lost a re-election bid last week perhaps in part for his support of an affordable housing development in Jefferson Park.

Many white residents fiercely opposed the development, using rhetoric often reserved for upholding racist housing policies that excluded blacks and Latinos from communities. Arena failed to get more than 25 percent of the vote in most of the ward’s Jefferson Park precincts. During the campaign, Arena said that the ward lacked enough affordable housing options and that there were signs that gentrification was taking place.

Belmont Cragin resident Diana Mireles is on the CDC board. She said she’s seen displacement on her block.

“I had a neighbor living there seven years with her kids. And her landlord decided he was going to rent to someone else, and he made the rent unreasonable for her and she had to move out,” Mireles said. “The mother packed up her family and disconnected and move out to the suburbs. I hated losing her as a neighbor.”

Natalie Moore is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @natalieymoore.

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