Where Jay Z, Chicago, and gentrification intertwine
Chicago’s 20th Ward Ald. Jeanette Taylor (standing) speaks at an assembly to address the development of the Barack Obama Presidential Center while 5th Ward Ald. Leslie Hairston (seated) looks on. Their wards are both located in the neighborhood where the center will be built. (PHOTO: Javanna Plummer)
“We don’t go out, can’t wish us away,” sang Jamila Woods on "BALDWIN," a song from her album LEGACY! LEGACY! In a later line, she added, “Condo climbing high, now the block the block is erased.” A Chicago native, Woods used this song as an opportunity to shed light on the city’s gentrification. However, she did not let this activism stop with the song.
During her LEGACY!LEGACY! tour stop in Chicago, she took a brief pause to encourage concertgoers to support Pilsen Alliance, an organization on Chicago’s West side fighting gentrification. As Chicago’s South and West Side communities are changing, organizers like Woods and Pilsen Alliance make efforts to protect the city’s vulnerable communities. In Logan Square, these efforts came in the form of “the 606,” said Ashley Galvan Ramos, a constituent services liaison for 1st Ward Ald. Daniel La Spata.
Chicago’s City Council passed the 606 Bloomingdale Trail Neighborhood Area Neighborhood Improvement Program in 2017. This was a grant that would “keep long-term homeowners and renters of the rapidly gentrifying Humboldt Park and Logan Square neighborhoods (the ‘606 Residential Area’) stably in place,” according to the website for LUCHA, a community organization that advocated for the grant.
Ramos said this ordinance was one of the strategies that housing organizers used to prevent gentrification in Logan Square, a neighborhood whose demographics are changing. Since 2009, Logan Square has welcomed a growing white population that is accompanied by a declining Latinx population, a report from WBEZ found. These demographic changes are because of affordability, Ramos noted.
When Ramos’ family migrated from Mexico to Logan Square, they grew close to their landlord. Ramos saw him as a grandfather, she said, so her family was taken by surprise upon learning that their rent would be doubling.
Although Ramos has been involved with housing activism since high school, she never thought it would hit so close to home. Ramos’ family is not an anomaly but a case study, she added, asking, “How do we prevent [displacement] from happening?”
After her interview, Ramos got up to look across at the Target store in Hyde Park. While gazing at the bright red sign, Ramos noted that the South Side neighborhood has changed as well. In the last few years, the area has seen the addition of stores such as: Target, Akira, Ulta Beauty, and Whole Foods.
Some would argue that these new developments signal gentrification.
The moral, economic, and
Andrew N. Reilly for The Chicago Maroon,
Hyde Park, home to former President Barack Obama, has a median income of approximately $56,000 a year, according to data hub Statistic Atlas. The data further shows that lower-income residents make around $17,000 a year while affluent ones make close to $200,000 a year (nearly 11 times that amount). So, for these well-off occupants, stores like Target and Akira are not luxuries. Yet, for lower-income families, the new “amenities” could have priced them out, Reilly argued.
He added, “The argument that everyone loses from gentrification is overly simplistic; those with socioeconomic privileges, often the wealthy and the white, stand to profit immensely from the increasingly prevalent process [of gentrification].” The University of Chicago, which is based in Chicago’s Hyde Park and Woodlawn communities, has development plans that are going to displace residents, Reilley further posited. One project raising such concerns is the forthcoming Barack Obama Presidential Center.
This facility is being built in partnership with the University of Chicago, the Barack Obama Foundation, and the City of Chicago. When it was announced that Jackson Park, a public space in Woodlawn, would house the center, organizers proposed a community benefits agreement (CBA), which is essentially a contract between community residents and developers, said Devondrick Jeffers at a recent assembly.
Jeffers is a member of Southside Together Organizing for People Power (STOP). 3 years ago, STOP helped to create the CBA coalition, a group of local organizations advocating for the CBA. In 2016, the group proposed a development plan that would address housing, education, employment, transportation, and stability. Yet, after pushback, the coalition changed their approach, Jeffers noted.
They now recommend a CBA housing ordinance that will address matters ranging from affordable housing to property taxes. This pending legislation has been supported by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Obama Foundation. “The forces are starting to align that will allow us…to protect people,” said Jawanza Malone, executive director of Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), another founding member of the CBA coalition.
To organizers, a CBA will ensure community trust.
Kwynn Riley, a member of Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), said, “[Developers] come into impoverished neighborhoods and feel like they're doing something better for the community without the community consent, and that’s really what gentrification is—it’s doing something without the community consent.”
However, the CBA can only protect the people if its promises are met, said Atlanta-based organizer Da’Shaun Harrison. Harrison recalled a moment when he was organizing in Atlanta, and advocates proposed a CBA, but its promises were unmet.
After Georgia State University announced its plans to repurpose Turner Field Stadium on Atlanta’s West side, there was a 65-day sit-in. According to Harrison, the university’s plan to roll out 700 units of private student housing would break up historically Black neighborhoods, and organizers wanted to prevent that.
Thus, a CBA was introduced. However, because the university did not fulfill promises made in the CBA, community members remain unprotected, he noted.
“The [West end] residents now are still fighting to make sure that their housing is maintained,” Harrison said.
Harrison added that developers will green light these projects under the guise of revitalization and use coded language to mask the harm that gentrification causes. Therefore, semantics are important when thinking about the issue.
Malone, on the other hand, offered a different take. He said, “The bigger issue [with gentrification] is [not semantics but] the displacement that occurs as a result.”
Malone added that gentrification occurs when people are pushed out of a neighborhood “simply because they have the income that a different group of people think isn’t sufficient enough.” In Woodlawn, this is a pressing concern for organizers. Without a CBA, these residents will be displaced, Malone said.
Malone added that the median income of Woodlawn residents is less than $24,000 a year, and they will not be able to keep up with increased property taxes likely to come with the arrival of the Obama center.
Therefore, a CBA is imperative.
In major cities like Chicago and Atlanta, housing organizers collaborate with community members to keep them informed on new developments. At the June CBA assembly in Chicago, Jeffers praised community members for their role in forcing a change. Because of them, he said, the city finally began listening.
We gotta protest,
Allen Lee, elderly Woodlawn resident
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