Obama Library CBA Coalition hosts housing forum

Staff Writer

About 180 people came to the most recent meeting for the Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition.

A CBA is a contract signed by community groups and a real estate developer that requires the developer to provide specific amenities and improvement to the local community or neighborhood.

The coalition hosted a forum, on Wednesday, July 19, centered on housing in the wake of development for the future Barack Obama Presidential Center (OPC) that will be situated in Jackson Park.

The forum consisted of panelists, Mattie Butler, Housing developer and director of Woodlawn East Community and Neighbors (WECAN); Aisha Truss-Miller, community organizer for Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO); Janet Smith, co-director of Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement; and Michele Williams, president of Island Terrace Tenants’ Association.

Williams believes that the Island Terrace apartments, 6430 S. Stony Island Ave., will be “one of the buildings that are going to disappear once they [city, Obama Foundation] get everything in place.”

Wednesday’s meeting that was held at Harris Park, 6200 S. Drexel Ave., was one of a series of sessions that will be held over the next few weeks. The topics for each session align with principles for the CBA.

Principles outlined by the Obama Library CBA would require jobs to be set-aside for people in the community, protect affordable housing and homeowners, support and create black-owned businesses, and strengthen neighborhood schools.

Organizers are pushing for a CBA to ensure that there is accountability from the developers of the OPC, the Obama Foundation, the City of Chicago, the Chicago Park District and the University of Chicago, who proposed the center’s location on the South Side.

Residents joined breakout sessions at the forum where they learned more about community organizing, communication and had the floor to voice their concerns about affordable housing and gentrification in the wake of new development coming to the area.

Many welcome the OPC, but some fear that their rent will rise and that they could be pushed out of their homes when work is complete on the OPC.

“If your rent goes up there’s a point where you’re like I have to move because even with a voucher can’t afford to live here,” Smith said. “We have to look at what protections we can put in place.”

Anne Marie Miles, a Hyde Park resident, suggested that the group include rent prices that are based on the person’s income for the CBA.
“All of the housing in this area will be in jeopardy, the high rises that are here the homes because rent and property taxes are going to be rising,” Miles said. “We’re concerned about those who currently live here, those who are homeowners and who wish to age in place. We don’t want to see our children being forced out of the community. When the developers come in, we need to be saying a certain proportion of all the apartments or the houses that you’re building must be affordable.”

Residents also walked away from the forum with next steps that include getting more people in the neighborhood involved and voting in the upcoming election. As well as, staying abreast of policy by attending city council meetings.

Groundbreaking for the OPC is set to begin late next summer, and it is expected to open to the public in 2021.

The OPC, which will house a library holding the Presidential archives, a museum focusing on the Obama Presidency and space for programs and initiatives that advance the foundation’s public mission.

The coalition is made up of members from Southside Together Organizing for Power, the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, the Bronzeville Regional Collective and the University of Chicago student-led Prayer and Action Collective.

The next meeting will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 16 at the Harris Park Fieldhouse.