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South Side Voters Will Get A (Non-Binding) Vote On Whether Obama Center Needs A Community Benefits Agreement

The CBA would mandate 30 percent of all new and rehabilitated housing to be set aside for low- and moderate-income Chicagoans.

Devondrick Jeffers turns in petitions to put an advisory referendum about the Obama Presidential Center on the February ballot.
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WOODLAWN — Voters in Woodlawn and Washington Park will be asked to weigh in on whether the Obama Presidential Center should sign a community benefits agreement that includes an affordable housing mandate and a property tax freeze for long-time residents. 

Supporters of a community benefits agreement submitted signatures to put a non-binding question to voters in the 5th precinct of the 5th Ward and the 1st, 22nd and 23rd precincts of the 20th Ward near Jackson Park, where the center is slated to be built. The CBA would  mandate 30 percent of all new and rehabilitated housing to be set aside for low- and moderate-income Chicagoans.

The OPC agreement aldermen already unanimously approved in late October acknowledges that the $500 million project could push long time South Side residents out of their homes. Planning officials said they would monitor displacement by keeping tabs on property values and other indicators. 

Alex Goldenberg, an organizer behind the push for a community benefit agreement, said the city’s action was a “step in the right direction” but doesn’t go far enough.

Former President Barack Obama and the Obama Foundation have resisted calls to sign a community benefits agreement that would include independent monitoring and local hiring, support for neighborhood schools and a community trust fund to support the initiatives.

Obama’s presidential museum will be part of a four-building campus that includes an underground parking facility, a plaza, play areas, pedestrian and bicycle paths and landscaped open space, according to the revised measure. Those plans were approved in May by the City Council, and the city will own the center once it is built, according to the agreement.

One of the buildings will include a branch of the Chicago Public Library. The foundation has pledged to “strive” to award 50 percent of all contracts to firms owned by blacks, Latinos and women, more than current law requires.

A federal lawsuit filed by public parks activists against the city of Chicago and the Chicago Park District to block the construction of the center in Jackson Park is working its way through the courts, and the center must also undergo a federal review.