Chicago’s city council has already approved the construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, but some South Side community organizations still have concerns about how the $500 million development could push up housing prices and rents in the surrounding neighborhoods of Woodlawn and Washington Park.
In the 2019 municipal election on Feb. 26, voters in some precincts in the 5th and 20th wards will weigh in on a non-binding ballot initiative that proposes a community benefits agreement. That’s a legal document that would force the city to preserve affordable housing near the Obama Center.
Morning Shift checks in with two activists who helped put the community benefits agreement on the ballot.
GUESTS: Alex Goldenberg, director, Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP)
Devondrick Jeffers, housing organizer, STOP
The Reason for a Community Benefits Agreement
Devondrick Jeffers: There’s a long history of displacement in Chicago, especially when it comes to people of color. You could look at the construction of the Dan Ryan that displaced people along State Street; we could look at the history of redlining and housing discrimination which results in housing segregation in neighborhoods that we see today. Or, more recently, we can even look more recently, from 2000 to 2010, when public housing was demolished all along State Street, all throughout the city…250,000 Black people moved out of the city between 2000 and 2010. So there’s a very long history of displacement in Chicago. That being said, with this huge development coming in, it behooves us to make sure that the folks who’ve lived in the neighborhood the longest get the right to remain… As you know, the Obama Center hasn’t even broken ground yet officially, but just on the announcement alone that the Center would be coming to Jackson Park, property values in Woodlawn have jumped up more than 20 percent. So absolutely, this displacement is on everybody’s mind.
Alex Goldenberg: One of our colleagues, a Woodlawn native, actually herself was displaced from the neighborhood. So she had to move out of her apartment and search for an apartment that she could afford —
Tony Sarabia: Because of this? Because they already raised the rents?
Goldenberg: Her rents went up and she searched for another place she could move to, and she couldn’t find anything. We’re in conversation right now with somebody who lives in a condo. She’s renting, the owner is trying to sell, to take advantage of these rising values, and she’s looking to stay and hasn’t been able to find a place to stay.
Why Put a Community Benefits Agreement on the Ballot?
Goldenberg: It came about because we wanted to take advantage of these elections, frankly. And in order to pass this [city] ordinance [preserving affordable housing], because of Chicago’s history of aldermanic prerogative, where if something’s gonna impact the local ward, the local alderman has to give his blessing. We have not been able to get the local aldermen to support what we’re calling for, and that’s why it hasn’t moved, and so that’s why we said, “Let’s put this on the ballot, and let’s show, especially in the 20th ward, which is an open seat, that this is something that the community needs and that they need to support. And it’s already paying off, because at the most recent aldermanic candidates’ forum in the 20th ward, all nine of the candidates said that they would support the CBA ordinance.
If Passed, the CBA Proposal Would Be Nonbinding. If It Passes, What’s Next For Activists?
Goldenberg: We’re gonna do what stop continues to do, which is to raise awareness [and] organize those most impacted to lead the fight to make this happen. So we’re doing large forums in the community, we’re gonna do a candidate’s forum before the vote-we’ll be turning out hundreds of residents. We do marches, demonstrations—we’re going to continue to push, to hold the alderman accountable to implement this, and we won’t stop.
LEARN MORE: South Side Voters Will Get A (Non-Binding) Vote On Whether Obama Center Needs A Community Benefits Agreement (Block Club Chicago 11/27/18)