CHICAGO—Community activists recently met on the city’s South Side to share information with residents and keep demanding housing protections to keep people from being driven out during Obama Presidential Center construction.
“As of now, there are no protections in place. We haven’t seen any significant movement from the city,” said Dixon Romeo of the Community Benefits Agreement Coalition. He is worried that the Obama Presidential Center, a nearly $1 billion project scheduled to be completed in 2025, will push South Shore and Kenwood neighborhood residents, who are predominantly Black, out of their homes.
He and other members of the coalition are calling for Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Alderwoman Leslie Hairston of the 5th Ward and Alderman Greg Mitchell of the 7th Ward to agree to six demands. Organizers say the demands include ensuring equitable development in South Shore; expanding tenant protections; keeping affordable housing in the community; preventing and addressing rising displacement; giving $12 million in homeowner protections; and increasing resources for low-income families from the Chicago Housing Authority.
Organizers say the ball is in the mayor and city officials’ court. Neither the mayor, Alderwoman Hairston nor Alderman Mitchell responded to Final Call requests for comment after the Nov. 12 meeting in South Shore.
In September 2020, Mayor Lightfoot and the city council approved an ordinance to bring affordable housing protections to the nearby Woodlawn neighborhood, where the center will be built.
Under the ordinance, Woodlawn residents are to be protected from displacement, should enjoy fair housing and for sale housing opportunities at a range of incomes; and the ordinance is supposed to ensure existing housing translates into good, quality housing for current residents.
Activists say South Shore and Kenwood need protections now. According to Community Benefits Agreement Coalition research, the demands for South Shore differ from Woodlawn due to its geographical size, number of renters and vacant lots. And there are no housing protections for South Shore or Kenwood, they add.
The coalition organized and pressed for housing protections for five years to get the commitments made in Woodlawn, said Brandon Patterson, also an organizer with the Community Benefits Agreement Coalition. “The hope is that it won’t take them that long in South Shore. Residents in South Shore are in the toughest position so it needs it the most, and it needs it now. People are being displaced as we speak because rents are rising as we speak.”
The presidential center is supposed to bring an “enriching experience” to the South Side. The 19.3-acre, 235-feet tall project will include a library, museum, park and activity center, walkway, garden, and children’s park.
Community activists and residents do not oppose the presidential center but want to avert a potential disaster for vulnerable Black neighborhoods. During the presidential center groundbreaking in late September, residents and community activists voiced these concerns at a press conference aimed at the mayor and city council.
Mr. Romeo vowed that the Community Benefits Agreement Coalition would continue to push hard for demands for South Shore and Kenwood residents. The coalition will also be knocking on doors, talking to people and meeting with those impacted by changes in the neighborhood, he said.