The University of Chicago campus in Hyde Park. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

HYDE PARK — Students and residents living near University of Chicago’s campus are demanding the university give more than $70 million per year to affordable housing and educational programs as reparations for its role in segregating and gentrifying the South Side.

Student group UChicago Against Displacement and community groups Southside Together Organizing for Power, Not Me We and the CBA Coalition are calling on UChicago to:

  • Provide $50 million annually in grant funds for affordable housing over 20 years, totaling $1 billion.
  • Provide $20 million annually in rental assistance and funding for local schools.
  • Be “held accountable” for expanding into Woodlawn and Washington Park and reaffirm its agreements not to do so.
  • Expand its employer-assisted housing program.
  • Support STEM programs in local schools.

From covertly supporting restrictive covenants on the South Side — through which residents agreed not to sell to people of color — to urban renewal projects that cleared businesses and nightlife in the name of removing blight, the university’s actions have harmed nearby residents for decades, panelists said at a town hall discussion Wednesday.

Though UChicago’s research and programs are valuable, “the majority of folks [living near campus] are not going to go to that school, so the inherent public good of the school is never felt by folks,” said Dixon Romeo, a South Shore resident and member of Not Me We.

Even those residents who are in need of the university’s offerings, like its hospital and Level 1 trauma center, may face barriers to access, said Patricia Tatum, a longtime Woodlawn resident and a former nurse at UChicago Medicine. Reparations would assist residents without requiring them to participate in university programs, she said.

“If [the university is] going to stay here and be the major presence in this community, they need to do something to contribute to the community,” she said.

Though the Obama Presidential Center’s formally independent of UChicago, its future location near campus threatens to further displacement in the community, said Tahiti Hamer, a South Shore resident and Not Me We member.

The university stands to benefit from the center, so it’s on the university to help prevent harm that may be caused by the center, Hamer said.

The Obama Center is “supposed to be coming for the people that’s in the community, but what people?” Hamer said. “The people who have been here for years are not going to be here to enjoy it, because they’re being forced out.”

A 1961 photo of the intersection of 55th Street and Lake Park Avenue, which was drastically changed in a few short years during the controversial Hyde Park urban renewal project. Credit: Hyde Park Historical Society

UChicago spokesperson Gerald McSwiggan did not respond to residents’ specific demands, but he noted the university’s “commitments” to South Siders in recent years, including:

  • Offering free college readiness programs to hundreds of Chicago Public Schools students per year.
  • Providing $725,000 in direct funding, as well as administrative support, to more than 160 South Side organizations through the Community Programs Accelerator.
  • Spending $224 million on products from local, minority- and women-owned suppliers over the past 10 years, not including construction firms.
  • Supporting more than 300 South Side businesses per year with technical assistance, workshops and other programs.
  • Creating the UChicago Youth Internship Program, which provided 10 CPS students with a six-week summer job and a $2,500 stipend. The university plans to expand the program this year, McSwiggan said.
  • Organizing a council on the past, present and future of the university’s relationship with surrounding neighborhoods.

“One of the University of Chicago’s most fundamental and critical relationships is with Chicago’s South Side,” McSwiggan said. “… The University has engaged with community concerns over many years and is taking many of the steps that community residents and elected officials have suggested.”

Ahead of the Obama Center’s opening, the university is also mapping South Shore’s “housing landscape” through the South Side Housing Data Initiative, McSwiggan said.

The initiative — in its latest iteration after housing data was gathered in Woodlawn and Washington Park — plans to release a report, public website and interactive maps by June to help inform housing policies in South Shore.

The university moved south of 61st Street with “the support and approval from the community, aldermen and Chicago Public Schools,” McSwiggan said. UChicago Charter School opened a 64th Street campus in 2006, then moved one block north to 63rd Street in 2016 relocation.

McSwiggan also noted UChicago’s Arts Block as an example of its expansion into Washington Park. He did not answer Block Club’s questions about the impact of its urban renewal practices in Hyde Park, Kenwood, Woodlawn and surrounding communities, nor whether the university believes reparations are necessary.

Reparations are not only needed, but they should be led by the residents impacted by the university’s actions, Tatum said.

“The university has studied us under a microscope for so long, they know more about us than we know ourselves,” she said. “But they need to respect us enough to come to us and ask us, ‘What do we feel like we need?'”

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