By AARON GETTINGER
“It is not unreasonable for black people on the South and West sides of Chicago to benefit from the Obama Presidential Center,” said the audience in a call-and-response at a July 26 pep rally-like summit organized by the Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement Coalition at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Dr.
With no CBA yet established after months of organizing and fearing displacement and unequal distribution of benefits, coalition representatives said they would try to put a CBA ordinance on the February ballot and asked those in the audience for support.
Charles Perry of the Westside Health Authority attacked President Barack Obama for his absence from the South Side and expressed apprehension about the U. of C.’s construction of the Woodlawn Residential and Dining Commons and the David M. Rubenstein Forum convention center south of the Midway.
“We will do what we have to do to make sure that justice comes in our community,” he said, attacking “profiteers who take from the poor and fill the pockets of the rich.”
“We want 30 percent affordable housing with a property tax freeze, independent monitoring of local jobs, support for neighborhood schools and a community trust fund to support these initiatives,” said the crowd in another call-and-response led by Paru Brown of the Black Youth Project 100. “What do we want? A CBA! When do we want it? Now! If we don’t get it? Shut it down!”
Jawanza Malone of the Kenwood–Oakland Community Organization said displacement is already occurring, spurred by real estate developers who are acquiring property in proximity to Jackson and Washington parks and raising rents. He quoted Aaron Sklar, director of the Kiser Group, 1628 W. Montrose Ave., a mid-market brokerage, who said to RE Journals, a Midwestern commercial real estate news website, that “activity on the South Side keeps increasing — both on touring properties and the amount of offers we receive” and that the boost in demand is boosting prices.
The RE Journals article reported that the Kiser Group has sold or put under contract 30 buildings in South Side neighborhoods like Woodlawn, Englewood and Washington Park at the close of the second quarter in June. Kiser Group’s senior director, Noah Birk, was quoted as saying that South Side apartment buildings’ values have “appreciated rapidly” and attracted out-of-state investors.
“They say the prices going up and people are benefiting. If we got to move to another neighborhood, are we benefiting?” asked Malone, using the article to argue for affordable housing retainment and development and a property tax freeze. He urged the audience to sign statements of support for the CBA push issued to them upon entering the Cultural Center and for them to lobby Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), in whose ward the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) site is located, and Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) to support and introduce it to City Council.
Hairston said in 2017 that she would not support a community benefits agreement ordinance should it come before City Council, calling it premature and unfocused.
Malone later tied the U. of C.’s bid for the OPC to their ongoing real estate developments in Woodlawn and attacked the Obama Foundation for soliciting public funds.
“Gentrification is never an accident,” said professor Renee Hatcher, the director of the John Marshall Law School Business Enterprise Law Clinic, saying individual neighborhood residents “rarely have a meaningful say as to how their community is developed.”
Describing the continuing emigration of black Chicagoans as “a crisis point,” she urged the audience to think about connections between economic issues and policing, saying an increased law enforcement presence is a harbinger of gentrification, as well as displacement effecting the closing of neighborhood schools in Chicago’s neighborhoods of color.
“We need to start really trying to think about the different systems we have to dismantle,” Hatcher said. “And it all starts with this fight for a CBA, because fundamentally what needs to happen is that we need to build power through organizing, through pulling together and making demands. And if we don’t get it, we shut it down.”
When the panel was asked whether they would halt the building of the OPC without a CBA, Malone said yes: “If they do not want to adhere to a CBA, then we will have to let our voices out.”