SOUTH SHORE — South Shore neighbors want to shape the neighborhood’s future as the Obama Presidential Center arrives — and want to build relationships with each other in the process, they said at a town hall Thursday kicking off an effort to prevent displacement in the neighborhood.
Affordable housing, appreciation for the lakefront neighborhood’s unique character and Black unity were among the focuses of the town hall. It was organized by the Obama CBA Coalition, which fought to secure affordable housing protections in Woodlawn.
The coalition is starting its campaign to prevent displacement in South Shore ahead of the Obama Center’s planned groundbreaking this year, as organizers pledged to do upon the Woodlawn affordable housing ordinance’s passage last fall.
“We know we can’t stop gentrification, but what we can do is keep South Shore as Black as possible, we can keep it working class, and we can keep people who are poor housed,” said Ebonée Green, who has worked with the coalition for about three years. “… It’s the same line as in Woodlawn. We want the lunch ladies and crossing guards and everyone to be able to stay in this community.”
Some residents said they want to see affordable housing rates adjusted to individual incomes — not the area median income, as was used for the Woodlawn ordinance.
With no housing protections yet secured for South Shore, other attendees encouraged their neighbors to buy properties and live cooperatively before the Obama Center opens.
In the cultural realm, investment in local independent artists could draw more foot traffic and venues to the neighborhood, attendee and singer-songwriter Shawnee Day said. Stony Island Avenue is primed to host both, she said.
“I really, really think South Shore is the most ideal place to have that, with us having the Metra, the bike trail, the Jeffery bus, off Stony — there’s so many opportunities,” Day said. “I always have this vision of Stony looking like the busiest street in our entire city.”
Day isn’t alone in her dreams for Stony Island. The city’s roadmap for South Shore’s development calls for a cultural corridor along the avenue to complement institutions like the Stony Island Arts Bank at 67th Street and the vacant Avalon Regal Theater at 79th Street.
Culture and nightlife options abound in South Shore — particularly spaces for Black LGBTQ residents, including the Jeffery Pub at 7041 S. Jeffery Blvd., attendee Larry Dean said.
“There’s a lot of queer Black people in our community for sure, and there’s queer Black spaces — which is not common in a lot of places on the South Side,” Dean said. “I like that when I go through South Shore, I can really find random things to do.”
Dean also shouted out the Quarry Event Center — which is struggling to keep up with back property taxes — for its drum circles and mental health sessions for Black men.
The all-purpose community space at 2423 E. 75th St. is an example of the kind of Black-owned institution residents said they want to band together to preserve and create more of.
“We do need to find funds to put into places like the Quarry that have these different experiences available,” coalition organizer Savannah Brown said.
Thursday’s town hall was the coalition’s first with a South Shore focus, intended to gauge residents’ needs around housing, development and other concerns before drafting specific demands.
Neighbors connecting with each other through coalition meetings and social activities will be key to the South Shore campaign’s success, residents said. To get involved, click here.
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