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Pilsen, Little Village, West Loop

Pilsen, Little Village Voters Tell City Officials El Paseo Needs A Community Benefits Agreement

The non-binding referendum calls for developers to sign an agreement that would create 30 percent of affordable housing in new developments.

A map of the proposed El Paseo Trail.
City of Chicago
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PILSEN — Voters in Pilsen and Little Village overwhelmingly backed a push to require El Paseo Trail to have a community benefits agreement that includes a 30 percent affordable housing mandate and a property tax freeze.

More than 90 percent of voters in the 15th and 18th precincts of the 12th Ward; the 15th precinct  of the 22nd Ward; and 12 and 23rd precincts of the 25th Ward backed the non-binding referendum question, according to Tuesday’s results. A non-binding referendum question is a way to let elected officials know how voters are feeling, but does not require action on the part of lawmakers.

In full, the measure calls for developers to sign an agreement that would create 30 percent of affordable housing in new developments, freeze property taxes and provide funding for local jobs and affordable housing.

Last fall, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, now-disgraced Ald. Danny Solis (25th), Ricardo Muñoz (22nd) and George Cardenas (12th) announced a five-part strategy to preserve the Mexican and Mexican-American families in the two neighborhoods.  But residents and aldermanic candidates slammed the plan saying it didn’t do enough to protect gentrifying Pilsen.

Among the plan, the city call for increasing the affordable housing requirement to 20 percent, the creation of the Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund, purchasing the four-mile stretch along the BNSF Railway for the Paseo Trail, designating portions of Pilsen into a landmark, and modernizing Pilsen and Little Village Industrial Corridors.

In December,  City Council approved the measure to acquire four miles of abandoned railroad tracks from BNSF Railway to make way for the Paseo Trail from 16th Street in Pilsen to 31st Street in Little Village.

Some residents there worry developers will flock to that trail as well and fuel further gentrification. Housing prices have soared near The 606 trail, pushing out some longtime residents.

Starting at 16th and Sangamon, the planned public trail will lead to Cermak Road and follow Blue Island Avenue and 26th Street southwest all the way to Central Park Avenue, according to 2016 plans. 

The trail was first proposed in 2006, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and city planners announced plans to build it in March 2016.

Comparing the path to the 606 in Humboldt Park and other North Side neighborhoods, Pilsen neighbors have worried that the Paseo could speed up gentrification in Pilsen and Little Village. 

During a 2016 meeting on the trail, Corina Pedraza, co-director of the Pilsen Alliance could result in the displacement of residents, according to a DNAinfo article.

“This is an opportunity for us to think big. We know something is coming … but this is our chance to say, ‘What if? What if you build affordable housing with it,” Pedraza said.

During the unveiling of the plan last fall, Little Village Alderman Cardenas said he didn’t want to sign off on the Paseo trail until a “holistic” housing strategy was in place to combat rising housing prices that might accompany the trail.

The city’s new five-part plan is a way to get ahead of that — and a way to counteract the effects of other large-scale developments, like Lincoln Yards, which he predicts will cause rent increases across the city “sooner than people might expect.”

“We want to create a model that works,” he said.

Candidates Byron Sigcho Lopez and Alex Acevedo are set to face off in an April 2 runoff to replace retiring Solis in the 25th Ward.

According to unofficial returns, Acevedo beat candidate Hilario Dominguez by 127 votes to secure his spot in the runoff.

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