By SAMANTHA SMYLIE
Low-income households within a two-mile radius around the proposed site for the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) are at risk of being displaced due to rising rents and home values, according to a new report from the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).
The report, titled “Protect, Preserve, Produce: Affordable Housing and The Obama Center,” was released during a press conference this morning with members of the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) coalition along with Janet Smith, professor of Urban Planning and Policy at UIC and Co-Director of the Voorhees Center.
According to the report, the area within a two-mile radius of the OPC site is economically mixed, but predominantly low-income. The problems that lead to displacement for renters and homeowners are divided in the report to highlight the need for each group, but both are at high risk of being displaced.
As outlined in the report’s findings, renters make of 69% of the population. A large portion of renters have incomes below $20,000 and a majority of renters cannot afford their monthly rent — even though they are able to make their rent, they are paying more than 30% of income for rent. Newly renovated and new construction units are not affordable for a majority of current rents. Eviction rates across the city have increased, but residents in South Shore are being evicted at the highest rate in the city. For 3,200 residents who are voucher holders, known as section 8 housing, they could be displaced if rents rise above the Fair Market Rent set by United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The largest portion of homeowners have an annual income of more than $75,000 and 9 out of 10 can afford their monthly housing payments. However, prices of for-sale housing have outpaced the city’s rates since 2016. For older families who are on-fixed incomes, tax increases could lead them to leave their homes.
The report suggests there is still time to have development in the area without displacing current residents by providing rent assistance, supporting efforts to prevent eviction, tax relief for homeowners, preserve affordable housing and produce more affordable housing. As stated in the findings, an estimated 214 acres of vacant parcels zoned for residential development are available.
“This presents opportunities right now to actually start considering development strategies to build more affordable housing in that area,” Smith said. “It can be mixed income; it could be all affordable. More importantly is this; many of these properties are owned by the public. They’re owned by the city or some agency in the city, which means there’s immediate opportunities for building new mixed income and affordable housing, both rental and for sale.”
Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th), who appeared later in the press conference, saw the report’s findings as “gravy on potatoes” since it reflected the fears of residents and community activists in her ward.
Taylor and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) introduced the CBA ordinance in July. During the press conference, Taylor said there is growing momentum behind the bill due to the amount of support that it has received from her colleagues and conversations that she has had with community members, The Obama Foundation, the University of Chicago and other community stakeholders.
Taylor also mentioned that she would be having a meeting with the city’s corporation counsel to ensure that the language of the ordinance is strong and she sees it as a cooperation with the Mayor.
Taylor will be hosting a tour of vacant lots and the four schools in her ward throughout Woodlawn and Washington Park on Monday and she will push for a vote on the CBA ordinance in city council in October.
“If the city is serious about protecting low income and working families in this community, we should have no problem with getting this signed,” said Taylor.