The Struggle for Affordable Housing Must Continue

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When Kanye West came to town for his listening tour he recreated his childhood home right in the middle of Soldier Field. The blue frame house was featured on Keeping Up With the Kardashians and purchased by his foundation, Donda House. While currently only valued just under $200,000, I surmise that it will follow the same path as the Notorious B.I.G’s infamous “1-room shack”. The one in the Clinton Hall neighborhood of Brooklyn that sold for $825K in 2013, and now rents his apartment out for $4000 a month.

While the community of South Shore on Chicago’s South Side is not seeing the rapid levels of gentrification that Brooklyn did. Without question rent across the city of Chicago is rising. With that being said, I believe that housing is a human right which should not be denied to anyone. I also believe that upward mobility of Black and Hispanic-Latino people is directly tied to the communities they live in and the quality of life these communities provide. So when we talk about Brooklyn and the affordable housing crisis that we see in New York City, my mind jumps to two things. What are we doing in Chicago that’s working, and what are other cities doing that can work in Chicago so that we don’t see the massive displacement?

In her recent budget Mayor Lori Lightfoot plans to allocate $220 million for affordable housing. While this is a grand plan and much needed, we need to know how she gets 26 city council members to sign on to this. Because you see Chicago is not just segregated, it’s so segregated that former Alderman John Arena lost his council seat because he advocated for affordable housing in his Northwest Side ward. While that is valiant and the right vote, I don’t see political suicide in the future for most Chicago council members. Nevertheless, don’t put residents in a shiny new building in the same impoverished, crime plagued communities that they have always lived in.

Citizens should be able to pay the same subsidized rent in Wicker Park and Logan Square, as they do on the South Side. And while many on the Northwest Side and affluent areas of the city may scoff at affordable housing, It makes sense to develop affordable housing units in these communities. Because of the price of market rate units, we are allowed to subsidize the affordable ones and developers, nor the city takes a significant loss. For example, in a development proposed to be built in Edison Park, the market rate for a studio and 2-BR are priced at $1600 and $2000 respectively. This would allow them to price subsidized studios as low as $653. This may sound like a pipe dream, but it’s already being done in major cities across the U.S.. As more states and cities realize that wages never caught up with the rest of the world and people are now choosing between paying rent or groceries.

And it’s not just a theme amongst people of color, working-class white residents are also finding themselves priced out of Chicago. According to newly released census data, the 19th ward, known as a bastion for middle and working class white families, saw its population drop. On the Northwest side, the 39th ward also saw a slight population decline. Everyone across the city is feeling the weight of there not being enough affordable housing to go around.

This is a shared problem and we need a shared approach. We must not allow what happened to the residents who lived along the 606 bike trail to happen to residents of Woodlawn or South Shore as they break ground on the Obama Presidential Center. Residents of Englewood who were displaced by Norfolk Southern Railroad company should be able to reap the benefits of the Englewood Line, a proposed bike path similar to that of the 606 trail. Imagine living in Pilsen all your life, only to be priced out. To walk up and down 18th street and not recognize where you are because development has run wild and rent prices have soared. I believe that we can have development without displacement. But we as a city can not just advocate for it, we have to demand it. It should be priority number one to make sure residents of a community are still around when all the good things are happening; the coffee shops, the artisan restaurants, the Whole Foods opening up on the corner.

Which brings us back to the top of this piece, how long before Kanye West’s childhood home goes from comparably priced in an area still plagued by violence to a million dollar house in the same mold as Biggie’s one-room shack. Already we see real estate listings swooning about the proximity of the Obama Presidential Library to South Shore and Woodlawn properties. What about residents close to “The 78”, a proposed megadevelopment that will exponentially increase the cost of living in the surrounding communities? While this may seem like a daunting task, several politicians got it right.

Jeanette Taylor, alderwoman of the 20th ward, sponsored and helped push through the Woodlawn Housing Preservation ordinance, an ordinance which protects current residents of the Woodlawn community from the inevitable gentrification that will happen to their neighborhood because of proximity to the Obama Presidential Center.. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, alderman of the 25th ward, has been a stout advocate for affordable housing in the community of Pilsen which he represents. Recently participating in a groundbreaking for two affordable housing buildings, he understands how integral development with displacement is to improving the quality of life for current residents of his ward. Why do I bring all this up, because housing is a human right and we must continue to push it.

The issue is not one that will be resolved soon but affordable advocates must push relentlessly to bring about the solution that benefits residents, developers and the city as a whole.

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October 26, 2021 at 12:51PM

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