Photo provided by the Coalition.

Since the announcement of the Obama Presidential Center, residents of the surrounding area have voiced concerns over the impact the development will have on housing affordability and the ongoing displacement of long-time residents. In the March primaries, nearly 80 percent of voters in the 6th and 10th precincts of the 7th ward voted in favor of a referendum calling on Mayor Brandon Johnson and Alderman Greg Mitchell (7th) to pass the South Shore Housing Opportunity ordinance to address the ongoing displacement of South Shore residents.

“We are living in a crisis. We are currently in a housing crisis. And so it’s not even about being on OPC’s (Obama Presidential Center) timeline, it’s about addressing the need that is currently here,” said Infiniti Gant, a housing organizer with Not Me We, regarding the primary election results of the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) referendum.

The South Shore CBA ordinance, introduced in October 2023 by Alderman Desmond Yancy (5th), aims to ensure equitable development, expand tenant protections, preserve affordable housing and protect homeowners through sixteen provisions and the allocation of $60 million total.

The ordinance also includes a measure for Woodlawn which calls for affordable housing development on 63rd and Blackstone where 75 percent of units are geared for working families so that they don’t pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent.

Last year, South Shore residents in eleven 5th ward precincts voted predominantly in favor of supporting a South Shore CBA and an affordable housing referendum for Woodlawn.

“The referendum results that we saw…people want this and we can keep doing referendums in different precincts or different parts of South Shore but every time we’ve done it, we see that this is a community ask,” said Gant.

In September 2020, City Council adopted the Woodlawn Housing Preservation Ordinance after persistent organizing by the Obama CBA Coalition

The ordinance includes protections for longtime homeowners through home improvement grants, as well as funding for the Preservation of Existing Affordable Rental program for property owners.   

“The CBA came from the needs of the community spoken by the community,” said Kiara Hardin, campaign chair for the South Shore CBA. She said the South Shore and 63rd & Blackstone ordinance was modeled after the original Woodlawn CBA ordinance and tailored by community input and guidance from their policy committee.  

Not Me We, a South Shore based housing and mutual aid organization, has spearheaded a series of engagement efforts in South Shore including phone banking, canvassing, and gentrification teach-ins, in an ongoing effort to expand protections for long-time South Shore residents.

Four days leading up to the elections, the CBA coalition held a People’s forum at St. Thomas Lutheran Church. Homeowners, property owners, and renters gathered in the packed church to learn about the CBA ordinance and the Bring Chicago Home ballot question. 

“We’ve been doing this campaign, got the ordinance introduced but there’s been a slow movement in City Hall so far. So we want to continue to engage the community, have a people’s hearing much like a legislative hearing… [where] we’re gonna thoroughly walk through the work,” said Dixon Romeo, Executive Director of Not Me We. 

During the forum organizers talked about the sixteen provisions one by one, and residents demonstrated their approval or apprehension on each of the provisions with the show of a green or red paper. Organizers took concerns and questions at the end.  

An organizer with Not Me We opened up the forum with his personal experience as a long time South Shore Resident. The organizer lives with his grandfather who he helps take care of. “We live in a condominium paid off years ago,” he said. “But at the same time, the price has gone up and the cost of upkeep of the building has made a lot of the units deteriorate. Some of you all might know what I’m talking about,” he added. 

The population of South Shore is around 93 percent Black and around 38 percent of residents live under the poverty level, making less than $25,000. According to a DePaul study, 50 percent of households are cost burdened, which means they are spending over 30 percent of their income on rent, mortgage fees, or other housing needs. 

“That’s why we’re here today fighting for CBA. My grandfather fought too hard and worked too hard to lose a condo just for an investor to buy from them for pennies on the dollar,” said the organizer. 

Among the provisions included in the $34.3 million for home and condo owners, the South Shore CBA Ordinance would allocate $20 million for a Long term Homeowner Improvement grant. 

This would help residents like Vanessa Clay, a seventy-eight-year-old constituent of the 7th ward and condo owner of over twenty years who was in attendance that morning. 

Clay struggled to find support to fix her roof which was leaking for ten years; she said this is what brought her out to the forum. “I have so many, you know, concerns that happened in my building, and I couldn’t get management right and to cooperate,” Clay told South Side Weekly.

Romeo described South Shore as the eviction capital of Chicago, leading the city in eviction rates. 

Over 75 percent of South Shore residents are tenants. “So yeah, I think we are really clear that in order to win like the CBA, we need a mobilized base of tenants in South Shore and I think we’re also really clear that like tenants are a very large part of the population in South Shore,” Sahar Punjwani told South Side Weekly

Punjwani is a University of Chicago (UofC) student and organizer with UChicago Against Displacement who works with tenant unions in South Shore and Woodlawn on addressing harassment and mismanagement from their landlords. 

Punjwani said that tenants would benefit from the provision for $15 million set aside for rental relief as well as creating an Office of the Tenant Advocate and a rental registry program. 

To address the needs for more affordable housing, South Shore residents are asking for 100 percent of city-owned vacant lots for affordable housing development with 75 percent reserved for households earning 15-30 percent area median income (AMI), and the other 25 percent for 60 percent AMI. 

AMI is used by the Department of Housing (DOH) to determine the maximum income level for DOH programs based on household size. The income limit is based on data from Chicago, Naperville and Joliet households.

A similar provision was passed through the Woodlawn ordinance which set aside 25 percent of city owned vacant land for developments designating 30 percent of units for low income tenants. 

“The fifty-two-lots piece of the ordinance was super important because we saw that as the most aggressive and enforceable ways to make sure there’s a safety net so people who do get pushed out are able to come back,” said Savannah Brown, a housing organizer with Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP).

Brown said organizers have been working to ensure that the city uphold this aspect of the Woodlawn ordinance along with pushing for the 63rd and Blackstone Affordable housing provision through the South Shore ordinance. 

“We’ve learned with the Woodlawn ordinance that we can’t just settle. The demands and protections that we are pushing for are there for a reason and we need to make sure that they get fully funded so they can truly get the impact that we anticipate,” said Brown. “The South Shore ordinance is a pilot; once this is presented in South Shore this will be able to spread into Woodlawn, into other neighborhoods who are facing the same issues across Chicago,” she added.

The forum drew in members of Palenque LSNA who made it out to learn about the Coalition’s efforts and show solidarity with South Shore CBA.  

“We have been at the forefront of a movement resisting displacement and gentrification on the northwest side of Chicago,” said Christian Diaz, Director of Housing at Palenque. “And I think we have learned, especially with the results of the March 19 elections, that solidarity is the answer. And we really can’t solve gentrification and displacement by ourselves,” he added, referencing the results of the Bring Chicago Home referendum

“At the same time, we see these glimmers of hope, when we zoom into local work, and I think Not Me We and the CBA coalition really showcase that, that there are many paths to victory. And there are many strategies,” said Diaz.

Following the elections, South Shore CBA held their monthly gentrification teach-in at the South Shore Library. The small group was made up of some people who attended the forum and others who talked to canvassers. 

After further discussion of the ordinance, the majority of attendees agreed to show up and give public comment in support of the CBA at the next City Council meeting, which took place on April 17. 

The ordinance has been largely supported by Ald. Yancy who introduced it. Ald. Mitchell, who also represents South Shore, has not expressed support. 

“I think aldermanic support is important but if we have referendums that say people want and need it, I think that’s more valuable,” Hardin said. “I think that a community is more valuable than one person.”

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Citlali Pérez is a freelance writer at South Side Weekly.

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