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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

With The Obama Center Underway, Residents Say It’s Time To Protect Affordable Housing In South Shore

Organizers are calling on the city to invest at least $63.3 million in programs that assist South Shore renters and homeowners with repairs, housing costs, home purchases and more.

The Metra Electric Line and buildings along 71st Street in South Shore on Nov. 15, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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SOUTH SHORE — As construction of the Obama Presidential Center moves forward, South Side organizers who have fought to preserve affordable housing are ready to make their demands a reality.

Members of the Obama CBA Coalition met with South Shore residents at a virtual “teach-in” Wednesday to start fine-tuning their policy goals for the city, which center around protecting tenants and homeowners, preserving affordable housing and preventing displacement.

Specific demands for city officials include:

  • Reserving all city-owned vacant lots in South Shore for affordable housing.
  • Creating a pilot affordable housing program for South Shore that requires 60 percent of new housing developments to be reserved for “extremely low-income” households — for example, a four-person household making less than $27,950 per year.
  • Capping rental application fees, move-in fees and security deposits.
  • Using the Chicago Housing Authority’s acquisition program to buy and convert new developments into public housing.

Organizers also want to invest at least $63.3 million in programs benefitting South Shore residents. That money would go toward:

  • A rent assistance program.
  • A loan fund for buying and rehabbing vacant residences.
  • A Renew South Shore program to help low- and middle-income earners buy homes in the neighborhood, similar to a program approved for Woodlawn last year.
  • Tax debt forgiveness for 950 homeowners in the 5th and 7th wards at risk of facing liens.
  • Allocations to the Preservation of Existing Affordable Rental program, the Chicago Low-Income Trust Fund and the Long Term Homeowner Improvement Grant program.

For a full list of demands, click here.

For a one-page recap, click here.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Construction along Cornell Drive near the planned site for the Obama Presidential Center on June 29, 2021.

The meeting was the coalition’s first virtual “teach-in” since detailing their expectations last month.

“Our demands more or less address” South Shore’s needs ahead of the center’s arrival, organizer Dixon Romeo said at the meeting. The list addresses concerns over the area’s long-term affordability, a need to support shared ownership housing, how they can address “pockets” of blight and high eviction rates in the neighborhood, Romeo said.

The CBA Coalition’s work was essential to securing housing protections for Woodlawn last year. The group of community organizations was founded in 2016, the same year President Barack Obama announced his intent to build his presidential center in Jackson Park.

Between the July 2019 release of a community benefits agreement ordinance proposal and the passage of the Woodlawn housing preservation ordinance in September 2020, organizers gave aldermen a tour of the neighborhood, rallied, protested and held teach-ins for residents.

The coalition’s demands for South Shore were drafted through a community engagement process that began in April and included online and in-person meetings in September and October.

“We took [residents’ feedback] and tried to translate it into some sort of reasonable, legal, actionable policy that helps prevent displacement or addresses a concern, but has as little negative effect as possible,” Romeo said.

Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
Obama CBA Coalition members Parrish Brown (with megaphone) and Ebonee Green (in front of microphones) lead a chant at a September 2019 rally for a community benefits agreement.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) and other city officials have said preserving South Shore homes requires a focus on condos, co-ops and other support for shared-ownership housing.

To that end, the city’s Micro Market Recovery Program is collecting data and reaching out to neighborhood homeowners, housing department spokesperson Eugenia Orr said.

The Center for Shared Ownership also partners with the city to offer legal support and technical assistance to existing condo and co-op boards, while helping to establish new ones, she said.

“We have specific strategies for aging condo buildings in South Shore that are very different than our strategies for, for instance, vacant land in Woodlawn,” Orr said.

Some attendees at the teach-in wanted more focus on homeownership, even as “protect South Shore homeowners” is among the group’s categories of demands.

Others urged coalition members to ramp up their outreach in the neighborhood, and they questioned whether some city-owned vacant lots would be better as “mixed-use” properties, featuring housing and businesses.

“I just want to … make sure that all of the South Shore residents and constituency bases have an opportunity to weigh in on this process, and also make sure that the demands are what we would like to see as well,” said Tonya Trice, executive director of the South Shore Chamber.

The chamber is a partner in the South Shore quality of life planning process, which tackles issues of economic development, vacancy reduction and property values.

The final quality of life plan meeting of 2021 takes place virtually 10 a.m. Dec. 11. Residents can register here.

Residents’ feedback will be gathered at future teach-ins like Wednesday’s and used to tweak the specifics of the coalition’s demands, but core demands will “more or less” stay the same, Romeo said.

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