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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

City’s Scaled-Back Obama Center Housing Plan Doesn’t Do Enough To Protect Woodlawn, Alderman Says

"I don't want to kill [the city's plan], but if that's what needs to happen to make sure we're not displaced, then that's what's got to happen," Ald. Jeanette Taylor said.

Ald. Jeanette Taylor leads the 20th Ward.
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WOODLAWN — Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) slammed the city’s new proposal to preserve affordable housing around the Obama Center Tuesday evening, while questioning the sincerity of the public input process that led to the proposal’s creation.

Taylor said the city’s new proposal doesn’t do enough to protect Woodlawn residents from displacement. If the draft proposal isn’t strengthened, the freshman alderman said she will push for the city’s proposal to stall in committee once it’s introduced.

“I don’t want to kill [the city’s proposal], but if that’s what needs to happen to make sure we’re not displaced, then that’s what’s got to happen,” Taylor said. “We’re smart enough to come up with our own plans. …Don’t ignore our lived experiences with your ‘I think I know because I read it in a book.'”

Taylor told Block Club she wouldn’t accept anything less than the protections outlined in a Community Benefits Agreement ordinance proposal, which has been stalled in committee for months, without the approval of her “community and the coalition.” The city’s new draft plan is separate from the earlier proposed CBA ordinance.

Taylor told Block Club said she “stopped the meetings” between residents and city officials after constituents told her they were confused and frustrated by the city’s process.

“What I kept getting from neighbors was, ‘This is not what you said it was gonna be,'” Taylor said. “I said, ‘Let’s go back to the table, because there’s been some miscommunication. This is what I told my communities [the process] was supposed to be, and you all are doing something totally different.'”

The meetings were “reconvened” after Taylor’s concerns were addressed, she said, adding that she felt the input process was designed mainly so the city could say they had reached out to residents — not because they were genuinely interested in the residents’ feedback.

“They basically wrote their own ordinance,” she said. “I felt like, on some portions they were listening, but on a lot of it they weren’t.”

In a response to Taylor’s comments, officials with the city’s Department of Housing said the new proposal is only “a first step” to preserving affordable housing in Woodlawn.

“Ensuring that the Obama Presidential Center creates inclusive growth opportunities while preventing displacement in Woodlawn has been a top priority for the Lightfoot administration from day one,” the statement read. “That is why the Department of Housing and other city departments have worked extensively over the past few months to bring a range of voices and perspectives for this community to the table in the development of affordable housing legislation to accomplish our shared goals for this community.”

“…We are committed to working in earnest with the Woodlawn community and a wide range of stakeholders to advance more comprehensive policies that will expand access to affordable housing more broadly throughout the city,” the statement continued.

The city’s draft proposal is a scaled-back version of the CBA ordinance proposal, which was introduced to City Council last July and supported by nearly 30 aldermen. Some key differences:

  • The CBA would apply to a two-mile radius around the planned Obama Center site, while the city’s proposal considers properties within three-fifths of a mile.
  • All new housing on vacant land presently owned by the city would be “affordable” under the CBA, while the city’s proposal does not have such a requirement.
  • The CBA would create a “pilot zone” that raises affordability requirements for new construction; this is not included in the new proposal.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot intends to submit the city’s proposal to City Council in February, according to Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara. The CBA has been stalled in committee for seven months.

“We’re not at that point yet,” Novara said Jan. 16 when asked if the new proposal was intended to replace the CBA.

Taylor’s comments came at a forum organized by the Obama CBA Coalition and held at Harris Park, 6200 S. Drexel Ave. Attendees learned about and discussed the differences between the two proposals.

Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
Attendees weigh the city’s affordable housing proposal against the CBA proposal during a roundtable discussion at Tuesday’s forum.

The city’s draft proposal “wouldn’t be on the table at all, if not for the hard work” of CBA organizers, said Alex Goldenberg, executive director of Southside Organizing Together for Power.

“There’s a lot of neighborhoods in the city facing gentrification, yet the mayor’s office started in Woodlawn,” Goldenberg said. “She started in response to a fierce fight that we have been waging for the past four years.”

Organizers encouraged those at the forum to attend the city’s open house on its proposal, to be held from 5-8 p.m. Jan. 30 at Hyde Park High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave.

Hours before the forum, the coalition delivered a letter to Lightfoot’s City Hall office. In the letter, members called on Lightfoot to meet with them and hear their concerns with the city’s new proposal.

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