South Side Looks for Olympic Gold | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

South Side Looks for Olympic Gold

Today Atlanta's mayor meets with the Chicago Urban League to advise on minority participation in the Olympic games. That's a hot topic for many community groups following the release of the hefty Chicago 2016 Olympic bid book. The bid book has no specifics about community benefits, including affordable housing.

The Olympic bid book reads like a glossy commercial for Chicago. It showcases city gems like the diversity, culture and lake, along with pictures of President Obama and Oprah.

But there's something missing from this book, according to Jay Travis, executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.

TRAVIS: Thirty percent of the housing at the Olympic Village should be affordable, and affordable to the people who currently reside in the community. The people that are here want to make sure that the games don't serve as a catalyst to push them out.

Travis' organization is one of several grassroots and labor groups pushing for the city council to adopt a binding Olympic legacy plan. Their coalition is called Communities for an Equitable Olympics 2016 and their plan details not only affordable housing options but demands minority contracting and labor input.

Led by the group Housing Bronzeville, voters in this and nearby neighborhoods approved a referendum on November 4 that directed Mayor Daley and the Olympic 2016 committee to set aside a quarter of city-owned vacant lots to be used for affordable homeownership. Problem is, there's no legal edict to enforce the measure.

The Chicago 2016 Olympic bid book says it doesn't anticipate displacement due to the games. No houses are expected to be torn down to build stadiums. But displacement materializes in different ways.

JACKSON: One of the primary forces of displacement is in real estate appreciation and gentrification. So when there's huge infrastructure projects and new developments that change the character of a particular area, that will change the cost of housing.

Kevin Jackson is head of the Chicago Rehab Network. The housing nonprofit has turned its attention to the Olympic bid and supports a community benefits agreement. He wants the city to preserve existing housing and to restore foreclosed properties for working families.

JACKSON: How do we make sure that gets back on line and can be reused? And secondly we think there ought to be some type of direct link and allotment to the Chicago affordable trust funds.

The clamoring from neighborhood groups may be having an effect. The Chicago 2016 committee this month expanded its outreach advisory council. The Chicago Rehab Network and the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization are now on the council. Activists say this is a good sign that they are not merely voices in the wind.

If Chicago is selected to host the 2016 games, Washington Park would be the site of an Olympic stadium. Bronzeville would be the site of the Olympic Village. These and the surrounding South Side neighborhoods have experienced long stretches of disinvestment.


Cecilia Butler is head of the Washington Park Advisory Council. We meet at a coffee shop in the rapidly changing North Kenwood neighborhood - a few blocks away from President Barack Obama's home.


Butler is also on the Chicago 2016 committee. She says the prospect of the Olympics has people in her neighborhood debating how to improve the neighborhood. Washington Park stakeholders have a 26-point Olympic plan. More local infrastructure, a property tax increase trust fund, cooperative housing to protect renters and building trade contracts for local residents.

BUTLER: Now it's up to us as the citizenry to get the message out. To let people know. Get involved now. Because if we don't get involved now, we don't want people to come back after it's over like in Atlanta.

Atlanta hosted the 1996 Olympics and people in that city are still arguing over how many low-income residents got the boot. Vancouver is hosting the 2010 winter Olympics and critics there are already rumbling about housing displacement.

BUTLER: In Atlanta, I've heard people say it was something great and yes people made money. But at the same time people said we lost money, they didn't come our way. Well, we want to nip these things and that discussion in the bud now.

Butler and others are looking forward to hearing what Atlanta's mayor has to say on the topic this afternoon when she speaks about minority Olympic involvement at the Chicago Urban League.

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