In recent months, as the City has weighed how to respond to the collision between the surge in arrivals of asylum seekers and Chicago’s ongoing housing crisis, Black residents in neighborhoods like South Shore have asked, “What about us?” Underpinning the question: a critique of the glaring lack of urgency with which the City has responded to Black neighborhoods struggling with an array of challenges and in desperate need of attention and public investment.
In South Shore, this lack of urgency and investment is deeply felt, especially when it comes to housing. The majority of South Shore residents are housing-cost burdened, meaning they spend more than thirty-percent of their income on rent or mortgage payments and may not be able to afford all their expenses. Less than twenty-five percent of residents are homeowners, compared to more than forty-five percent for the city overall. South Shore has among the highest number of homeowners who lose their homes to property tax sale of any neighborhood in the city—a problem especially for seniors on fixed incomes. And it has had the highest eviction rate of any neighborhood in the city for more than a decade
As real estate speculation has surged near the Obama Center in recent years, these challenges have worsened for South Shore residents. That’s why Not Me We and the Obama CBA Coalition have proposed a robust, comprehensive package of policies to bring desperately needed housing stability to the neighborhood, prevent displacement of longtime Black residents, and ensure that we all can stick around to enjoy the benefits of the coming Obama Center. If passed through City Council, the CBA ordinance would invest $64 million in housing and development resources in South Shore.
Now is the time for the City to pass a CBA and deliver on these desperately needed investments.
The CBA ordinance includes $20 million in forgivable loan funding to help longtime homeowners and condo associations make repairs to their homes; $12 million in subsidies for mortgage assistance for first-time homebuyers; $3 million in loans to help multi-family property owners refinance their mortgages and, in turn, keep their rents down; and $5 million to support local developers in purchasing and rehabbing vacant single- and multi-family properties. The bill would also include $15 million in cash rental assistance for renters, who compose the vast majority of South Shore residents. Much of the proposed funding would recur annually, though in smaller dollar amounts after the initial investment in the first year.
This is the type of substantial, targeted, and long-term investment in both residents and development that many South Shore residents have been clamoring for—and that eighty-eight percent of residents who voted on the CBA ballot referendum in February voted in favor of. The package would not only address longstanding housing needs in the neighborhood and help to mitigate displacement, but it would also hasten South Shore’s miserably slow recovery from the 2007 foreclosure crisis by spending tens of millions on revitalizing vacant and abandoned homes and properties, repairing aging buildings, and subsidizing new housing construction, including affordable housing.
The main obstacle to passing a CBA ordinance in the past had been opposition from former 5th Ward Alderperson Leslie Hairston and former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who responded with the Woodlawn Housing Preservation Ordinance. Not Me We is excited that new 5th Ward Alderperson Desmon Yancy and Mayor Brandon Johnson (while on the campaign trail) both committed to passing a CBA ordinance for South Shore. At our June 24 CBA Summit, which nearly 300 people attended, Yancy publicly recommitted to introducing the legislation in his first one hundred days. Our coalition is planning for introduction at the July 19 City Council meeting.
The Obama Center will bring much welcomed changes to South Shore. But the risk of displacement also looms large for many residents. A 2019 study from the Voorhees Center found that a majority of residents living within two miles of the Obama Center site could not afford their current housing costs or that of new higher-priced housing units under construction in the area. Speculation and housing costs have only increased since then. With a CBA, Alderpersons Yancy has an opportunity to deliver a tangible win for South Shore residents—and Mayor Johnson an opportunity to address displacement of Black families from the city, cementing his administration as one that truly serves all of Chicago’s people.
South Shore residents have waited long enough. It’s time for our elected leadership to act with the urgency we deserve, deliver what we’re owed, and pass a CBA ordinance for South Shore.
Brandon Patterson is a South Shore native and an organizer with Not Me We and the Obama CBA Coalition.