Hairston introduces bond plan to improve South Shore neighborhood

Ald. Leslie Hairston (Herald file photo)

Staff Writer

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) unveiled a plan to use bonds to promote sustainable commercial development, housing development and early childhood education support in South Shore at a Jan. 22 ward meeting.

“The fact that the Obama Center is coming to Jackson Park has many people worried about displacement,” Hairston said. “I don’t believe we should approach this as a scare tactic. I think we should approach this as united communities and find a way to help stabilize the neighborhood so that people do not get displaced.”

The plan is designed to cover just South Shore. Hairston has stressed in previous statements that she does not represent more than a sliver of Woodlawn, the lower income neighborhood across the street from the OPC site.

Hairston’s office hired Eli Williamson, a consultant who co-founded a Chicago veterans services nonprofit and serves on the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, to design the project, and he gave an overview of the plans at the meeting. He said the plan was drafted with the input of community stakeholders including residents and business-owners.

Noting South Shore’s status as an economically diverse African-American community (i.e., one with varying levels of household income) and one of the few majority-black lakefront neighborhoods, Williamson said the goals are to stabilize the existing community and create “economic and social incentives” to attract “back those individuals who left because of disinvestment.” The plan is specifically designed to promote sustainable commercial development.

He proposed investments into South Shore through “a bonding apparatus that allows for increased resources towards community organizations.”

Williamson said he has talked to Hairston about talking to county, city and state governments to identify the types of bonds that could “flow into community-led organizations and actually subsidize this work.”

Reached for comment later, Williamson said Hairston would advocate for the plan on municipal, county and state government levels. He said he did not know what bodies within those governments would issue the bonds but that government officials would know “how best can we accomplish this.”

“I don’t think there is an answer right now for the question that you have, because those conversations have to happen within those entities,” Williamson said.

Asked how government bodies would repay the bonds, Williamson deferred to Hairston’s office, saying his role was to reach out to local organizations and find opportunities and resources that would stabilize South Shore.

“When it comes to the actual bonding, my only job as a consultant was to identify opportunities that have already occurred and that fit the environment that we find ourselves in in Chicago,” Williamson said. “These higher level questions — these are the purview of the alderman, and this is also under the purview of the alderman’s outreach to the actual governmental entities that can actually do this type of work.”

Williamson declined to name specific South Shore organizations that would receive funds from the bonds, saying he does not want “to be seen as picking favorites.” He said fund recipients would be selected under rules written into the bond mechanism, not by Hairston herself.

At the meeting, Hairston said the mechanisms for how the bonds would be issued were under determination. As of press time, her office has not responded to requests for comment, and no details were available regarding what the total amount of the bonds would be.