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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Obama Center Community Benefits Ordinance Can Be Chicago’s Model For Development Without Displacement, Alds. Say

The introduced agreement only addresses housing, but its backers plan to tackle employment, sustainability, education and transportation, too.

From left: Obama Community Benefits Agreement Coalition member Parrish Brown and Alds. Leslie Hairston and Jeanette Taylor speak at a July 23, 2019 press conference ahead of the agreement's introduction.
Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
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WOODLAWN — With the Obama Center’s arrival appearing likelier than ever, the surrounding area’s aldermen are ready to introduce a community benefits agreement to the City Council this morning.

The proposed ordinance requires five main benefits within a two-mile radius of the Obama Center.

They are: Setting aside 30 percent of new or rehabbed developments for affordable housing; requiring buildings for sale to first be offered to their tenants; quarterly city studies on displacement; the establishment of a community trust fund and a property tax freeze.

At a press conference Tuesday, Alds. Leslie Hairston (5th) and Jeanette Taylor (20th) said the agreement was needed and its passage was all but a certainty.

Joined by members of the Obama Community Benefits Agreement Coalition, the aldermen praised the efforts of the community activists in drafting the agreement ordinance.

Establishing protections for nearby residents “should’ve been done on the front end,” when plans for the center were announced, Taylor said.

But the timeliness of the issue motivated the coalition, she said. They knew they had to act quickly to find solutions, or risk seeing themselves and their neighbors pushed out.

“We’re bringing all the stakeholders together,” Taylor said. “Either we’re going to hang together, or we’re going to hang together.”

The political process is just beginning. Some benefits are not under the city’s control, as Cook County would have to authorize a tax freeze.

Hairston said she had spoken with Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi on the issue. The coalition would take their demand for a freeze to Springfield if necessary, she added.

There’s also the matter of passing the ordinance through the City Council. Both aldermen are confident their colleagues will pass it, and coalition members said they had faith because of the level of community input in the process.

“The people of the community wanted [the agreement], as we see. We knocked doors, we created a referendum,” Hyde Park Academy senior Lanessa Young said. “This could be a life-changing moment for the Woodlawn area and all the residents around.”

The Obama Center can be a great benefit to residents if they can afford to remain in the neighborhood, Sharon Payne of Southside Together Organizing for Power said.

She said anybody could end up in a life situation where affordable housing is necessary, a fact the center wouldn’t change.

“Affordable housing is a human right,” Payne said. “All of the big cities — not just Chicago, but around the world — have been pushing their poorer people and working-class people out like they’re a part of used garbage.”

Drafting the ordinance has been a two-plus-year project for the coalition, said Parrish Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) and BYP100.

Even if the introduced agreement passes, the coalition has no plans to stop working, Brown said.

The ordinance only addresses housing, while the coalition also wants to introduce employment, sustainability, education and transportation agreements.

Hairston said once the housing piece passes City Council, work will start again on ensuring the other benefits for Jackson Park-area residents.

“You eat an elephant one bite at a time,” she said.

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