University Church considering joining CBA Coalition

Vincent Cole, University Church’s housing director, addresses attendees at the meeting. (Photo by Aaron Gettinger)

Staff Writer

The University Church of Chicago, which owns 31 units of affordable housing in Woodlawn, held a community meeting on affordable housing Saturday in its sanctuary to gather information as it considers joining the Coalition for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA).

Vincent Cole, University Church’s housing director, noted the effect that the planned Obama Presidential Center would have on Woodlawn in his opening remarks.

“Anytime a major project happens in a metropolis, there is some sort of effect,” Cole said. He said the meeting was “trying to figure out how the people who actually live in the neighborhood feel about what’s going on with the Obama Center.”

Fran Grossman, a member of the Chicago Plan Commission and 75-year Hyde Park resident, struck a chord when she called for an emphasis on facts over emotions.

“I’ve listened, I’ve listened, I’ve read, I’ve read — I’ve gone quietly to meetings, but nobody gives me any real information,” she said. “And I think one of the best things would be to contact — whether it be the University of Chicago, whether it’s the Metropolitan Planning Council, whether it’s any other housing group — and see if we can get some actual data.”

“How can we have a conversation as intelligent people … by not having any facts except how I feel and what it means to me?” she asked.

John Hieronymus, a 10-year Hyde Park resident and member of the Democratic Socialists of America who is helping launch an organization called Tenants United next weekend, said that it is clear that local housing costs are rising.

“I think a lot of people perceive Hyde Park as an area where working people don’t live,” Hieronymus said. He said they are struggling to make rent “so their kids can be in schools that Hyde Park has and other communities don’t have, and they’re getting forced out by people and organizations.”

“We need to go talk to tenants and ask them what’s going on with your building,” said Hieronymus. “What repairs aren’t happening? What’s your rent situation going to look like next year? Is your heat working? And they’ll tell us exactly what’s going on.” He said tenants have complained to him about ceilings falling in and three-year-old children who have developed asthma.

“I lived in Hyde Park before there were condos,” said Julie Less, a retiree. “I lived in Woodlawn staff housing that was torn down last week, and I worked with staff at the University who no longer live in Hyde Park. They live in the South Suburbs or Indiana, because they cannot afford anything in this area — and that’s been a 50-, 60-year process. We just may be looking at the tipping point right now.”

After the meeting, Cole said he heard evidence that organizing around affordable housing was rising in Hyde Park and surrounding neighborhoods.

He said that, at one point, there was a “house divided” as to whether University Church should join the CBA Coalition. “The converse of that [was] trusting Obama and Obama’s vision,” he said. “But they might lean towards the CBA at this point.” He said a decision would be made through a congregational meeting sometime in the next month.

“There’s so many changes going on right now. At one point, my perspective would have been that there was the CBA on one side and the Obama Foundation along with the city along with the University of Chicago on the other side. That was my perspective on it. Now with the new mayoral election, I’m not sure where the city is going to stand anymore. The aldermen kind of fall in line with the mayor, from what I can see,” he said.