9 candidates debate South Side housing, development and public … – Hyde Park Herald


The sanctuary was packed at South Shore United Methodist Church Sunday afternoon, Jan. 22 for a 5th Ward candidate forum on housing, development and displacement on the mid-South Side.

Hosted by community organizations the CBA Coalition and Not Me We, the forum drew more than 200 attendees and nine of the 11 candidates running to replace outgoing Ald. Leslie Hairston:  Marlene Fisher, Wallace Goode, Joshua Gray, Kris Levy, Robert Palmer, Dialike “Dee” Perkins, Gabriel Piemonte, Renita Ward and Desmon Yancy.

Candidates Jocelyn Hare and Martina Hone did not attend. Adrienne Irmer, who announced her candidacy in September, was removed from the ballot on Friday, Jan. 20. 

Representatives of the CBA Coalition and Not Me We addressed two sets of questions to the candidates: The first set was posed by the organizers, the second was from the audience.


A principal focus for the forum was housing, with an emphasis on solutions for 5th Ward residents’ concerns over displacement as real estate investors swoop in on the mid-South Side.

The conversation began with a question about what candidates would do for renters.A majority of residents of the 5th Ward, which encompasses most of Hyde Park, parts of Woodlawn and South Shore, are renters. The density of renters is greatest in Woodlawn and South Shore, where 78% and 75% of residents rent, respectively.

Piemonte, a former Herald editor and writing coach, said he would support a citywide eviction moratorium and rent control measure. 

“The Obama Presidential Center (OPC) in Jackson Park has triggered speculation that is criminal,” he said, adding that as alderman he could directly intervene in large developers and landlords’ attempts to buy up more property in the 5th Ward.

Ward, an attorney, and Perkins, a corporate tax auditor, advocated for rent protection. Ward added that tenants should be given the option to purchase their building if it goes up for sale.

Yancy, a community organizer and director of advocacy at the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, said he would work to expand the city and county’s Universal Basic Income (UBI) pilots and increase the city’s minimum wage to $25.

“We want to put more money in people’s pockets … I used to fight for $15, now I’m fighting for $25.”

Palmer, a special education teacher and real estate broker, said current Ald. Hairston has been “derelict in her duties” in respect to helping renters, adding that he would try to bring rental assistance programs to the ward. 

Gray, a political consultant, said 60-day-move-out notices should be doubled to 120 days.

Goode offered a more general, process-oriented answer: “What I have is a strategy to move (other candidates’) proposals forward in City Hall, in the university, in the Obama Foundation.”

Other candidates generally expressed the importance of working with the community to come up with solutions for renters.

Candidates were also asked to weigh in on the Bring Chicago Home campaign, which proposes “to create a dedicated municipal revenue stream for permanent housing supportive services for homeless Chicagoans” through the raising of a state transfer tax. 

In November, Hairston was among 25 aldermen who did not attend a City Council meeting to vote on making the ordinance a referendum on the 2023 municipal ballot; With City Council unable to meet quorum, the matter was tabled indefinitely.

All candidates except Fisher, a cybersecurity administrator at the University of Chicago, said they would co-sponsor an ordinance and vote yes on it.

Vacant lots and affordable housing

Organizers also took candidates’ temperatures on building more affordable housing in the 5th Ward. 

The 2020 Woodlawn Housing Preservation Ordinance requires the city to set aside 52 vacant lots in Woodlawn for building affordable housing, though progress on the lots’ development is slow. So far, only a handful of lots have been selected for development; the first affordable housing project under this ordinance broke ground – in the 20th Ward – this past November.

Asked if they would support bookmarking the city-owned vacant lot at 63rd Street and Blackstone Avenue for affordable development, candidates were mixed.

Levy, Palmer, Piemonte, Perkins and Yancy were unequivocally in support of setting the lot aside for affordable housing development. 

Fisher, Goode and Ward were noncommittal, agreeing that setting aside lots is necessary but stopping short of saying this specific location should be bookmarked. “We need to make sure it’s the right deal for affordable housing … I won’t go into it quickly saying yes or no,” Goode said.

Gray said he was supportive but “wouldn’t tell another alderman that you should do this.”

A South Shore Community Benefits Agreement

As construction on the OPC progresses, CBA Coalition organizers are calling for similar affordable housing protections in South Shore, which they say were cut out from the Woodlawn ordinance. 

In November 2021, the coalition announced its demands for South Shore. Among these demands are protections and subsidies for both homeowners and tenants, as well as the bookmarking of all city-owned vacant lots for affordable housing development.

Levy, Palmer, Piemonte, Perkins and Yancy all said they would introduce such an ordinance.

Goode said his hesitancy stems from there being too many demands for the city and not enough about “the role of the community.”

Voicing her opposition for a South Shore Community Benefits Agreement, Fisher said there aren’t enough city-owned lots for residents to purchase and that she “isn’t just trying to get (constituents’) votes.”

Offering partial support for the demands, Gray said he was hesitant to commit to setting aside 100% of city-owned lots for affordable housing development. 

Parks, the University of Chicago and police in schools

Turning to questions from the audience, candidates talked area park preservation, an alderman’s role in working with the University of Chicago and the presence of police in schools.

Palmer, Piemonte and Yancy and said they support preserving Promontory Point’s limestone revetment. Every candidate said they value local parks and supported preservation of the lakeshore. 

Piemonte suggested extending the city’s landmark ordinance beyond the built environment to include the cultivated environment. Goode suggested that the important question wasn’t about whether candidates support preservation but about how to organize the community so that constituents can get what they want.

Noting that the University of Chicago is one of the South Side’s largest employers and a major development driver in the 5th Ward, candidates were asked what demands they had for the institution.

Gray suggested the U. of C. “expand their police force” southward. Fisher, Lee, Perkins, Ward and Yancy said the alderman and community members should have a seat at the table in development plans and said the university should be more transparent about them.

Levy, Piemonte and Palmer stressed ‘reparative justice,’ saying the university should invest funds back into the surrounding community. 

Every candidate supported economic development, job creation, more activities for youth and restorative justice programs as means of improving public safety. 

Ward and Yancy also advocated for expanding the city’s mental health services and Piemonte discussed housing security as key to violence reduction; Goode said a “comprehensive plan” is needed to deal with “war zone” areas on the South Side.

When the discussion turned to police in schools, the panel and crowd became raucous.

Younger members of the audience chanted “Whose schools? Our schools!” and “Whose community? Our community!” or interrupted to debate candidates as the City Council hopefuls shared their stance school police.

When Fisher, a former teacher, said she was grateful for metal detectors and officers in her former school, she was met with angered shouts from the crowd, drowning her out.

Almost all candidates said they support restorative justice practitioners to intervene in schools as an alternative to police, but were hesitant to say they wanted police removed entirely. 

Piemonte said all police need to be removed from schools across Chicago Public Schools. Perkins and Yancy both said they’re personally against police in schools.

The 2023 municipal election is Feb. 28. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, a run-off election will take place on April 4.

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January 28, 2023 at 06:17PM

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