The ballot this election cycle was mercifully short — only three races for most Chicagoans. But if you live in a few of the city’s wards, you were also asked to vote on one of four ballot initiatives.
All the initiatives were nonbinding, and they all passed. One proposed using tax money from legalized marijuana to invest in poor communities. Another requested lifting the ban on rent control. Two others asked voters if they wanted a community benefits agreement to preserve affordable housing in their neighborhood.
A ballot measure that passed overwhelmingly proposed a community benefits agreement for the area around Obama Presidential Center planned for Jackson Park. In all of the precincts with this measure on the ballot, more than 80 percent of voters said yes. This community benefits agreement (CBA) would force the city of Chicago to preserve affordable housing near the proposed site.
Mia Sato created a ballot initiatives guide for the Better Government Association’s “What the Gov?” series. She joins the Morning Shift to tell us more about each initiative.
Also joining the program are Alex Goldenberg and Kyana Butler, two activists who helped get the CBA initiative on the ballot.
How an initiative gets on the ballot
Mia Sato: All of these ballot initiatives were placed on the ballot through a petition process, and so that’s why you only see [them] in some precincts and in some wards. You have to get a percentage of signatures from voters in those areas. And that’s why we didn’t have any city-wide ballot measures this time.
All four initiatives were non-binding. What does that mean?
Sato: Non-binding basically just means no immediate action will be triggered based on the results of the vote. However, you can think about it maybe as a way to send a message. If there’s an issue that residents care about, you can keep having that measure on ballots election after election, as we’ve seen with the affordable housing one, for example, or lawmakers can also use it as a way to survey an electorate, and kind of get public opinion on particular issues.
Jenn White: Any sense of how city officials have responded to these results?
Sato: You know, it’s unclear right now, but it is worth saying, though, that, particularly for the Obama Presidential Center, Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle have both said that they would support a community benefits agreement for the Center. So we’ll see how that unfolds.
Why activists say they need an Obama Center CBA
Alex Goldenberg: With the Obama Center coming, we are very excited — we think it’s a very tremendous opportunity for economic development — to bring an amenity that could really have a transformative impact on the lives of neighborhood residents in Woodlawn and surrounding areas. But there’s also a great risk of displacement, and that those who stand to benefit most could be the first ones to be pushed out. And so we’ve been pushing very hard to make sure that there are very aggressive interventions in the housing market put in place to preserve affordable housing for the long-time residents, so that they can benefit from this project coming to their community.
For some Woodlawn residents, displacement has already happened
Kyana Butler: I was forced out — it wasn’t a choice to move out. The landowners had started to go up on my rent, about $150 to $100, and they had started to do it without notice. It basically got to the point where they did this for seven or eight months, the rent accumulated, and then they started sending out eviction notices to more than one person in the building. So I wasn’t the only one at the time. So five other people was put out the same exact way that I was. I fought a little harder, and I ended up not having an eviction on my background, but the traumatization of that started to take a toll on me — I had to stop the fight. But it was after speculation of the Obama Library and everything, and it was August 2018 when I left. But they had started to go up on my rent in 2017 in late September.
This interview was edited for clarity and brevity. Click play to hear the full conversation.
GUESTS: Mia Sato, Engagement Editor, Better Government Association
Alex Goldenberg, director, Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP)
Kyana Butler, youth organizer, Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP)
LEARN MORE: Here Are the Ballot Measures in the Feb. 26 Chicago Elections (Better Government Association 2/21/19)
Election results (scroll to the bottom for ballot initiatives) (Chicago Sun-Times)