CITY HALL — Critics of a city-crafted plan designed to prevent longtime residents from being pushed out of gentrifying parts of Woodlawn near the planned Obama Presidential Center blocked the main entrance to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office Tuesday.
The protest was the latest effort by the Obama CBA Coalition, which comprises seven groups, to spur Lightfoot to take immediate action to protect low-income residents who fear the Obama Center will ratchet up housing prices and leave them homeless.
Holding signs shaped like the tents they fear they will be forced to live in once the center is built, several dozen protestors sat in front of the mayor’s fifth floor office, with two Chicago Police officers blocking their access into Lightfoot’s suite of offices.
The coalition has repeatedly urged the mayor to revamp her proposal — which officials are using to put together an ordinance to be considered by the City Council — to ensure that housing built on land now owned by the city is affordable to families earning $40,000 a year or less.
In addition, any new housing developments should be required to set aside 30 percent of their units for low- and moderate-income residents, according to the coalition’s proposal.
The coalition also demanded that the current proposal be expanded to include not only Woodlawn but also South Shore, Grand Crossing, Hyde Park, Washington Park and Kenwood.
A majority of aldermen have endorsed the coalition’s proposal for a community benefits agreement.
The Obama Foundation and former Mayor Rahm Emanuel rebuffed the coalition’s demand for a community benefits agreement, but Lightfoot promised during her campaign to back a legal measure.
Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th), who has vowed to block Lightfoot’s proposal from becoming law, did not participate in the sit-in but was greeted with a loud round of applause when she arrived at the protest.
During the sit-in, Taylor told reporters that the mayor’s staff agreed to meet with the coalition.
“We don’t trust the city,” Taylor said. “We just don’t.”
The meeting has not yet been scheduled.
The mayor met Monday with Taylor and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), who have been leading the push on the City Council to pass a community benefit agreement, said Anel Ruiz, a spokesperson for the mayor.
Additional conversations are expected to take place before the mayor asks the City Council to approve her proposal, Ruiz said.
Aides to the mayor and several commissioners have held 15 separate formal meetings with Woodlawn residents about affordable housing concerns, Ruiz said.
“We are committed to ongoing discussions with these stakeholders to make sure the concerns of the community are reflected in any affordable housing or economic development solutions for Woodlawn, while ensuring that there are no unintended consequences for the community,” Ruiz said.
Alds. Maria Hadden (49th) and Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) addressed the crowd and vowed to support their efforts to protect affordable housing.
Taylor said the mayor’s proposal would not protect Woodlawn residents from being pushed out of the area around the Obama Presidential Center, set to be built in Jackson Park. In addition, the freshman alderman accused Lightfoot and housing officials of disrespecting the largely Black and low-income community by crafting their own proposal, rather than endorsing the plan backed by a coalition of community groups.
The mayor’s proposal would apply only to census tracts within three-fifths of a mile of the Obama Presidential Center. The proposed community benefits agreement backed by Taylor and the Obama CBA Coalition, which comprises seven groups, wants protections to apply to all properties within a two-mile radius of the center. While Woodlawn would be included in the mayor’s plan, most of South Shore and Washington Park would not.
During a meeting of the City Council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate on Tuesday morning, Hadden asked Housing Department Managing Deputy Comm. Anthony Simpkins when the administration would back an ordinance with a “funding package for residents” of Woodlawn.
“Nothing is finailzed right now,” Simpkins responded. “I think we’re close, but we still have some more work to do with the elected representatives and people who live in that community.”
The mayor’s proposal is designed “to ensure that current residents are protected from displacement, while also setting the neighborhood up for the housing and other economic development needed for future growth,” according to a statement from the mayor’s office.