By SAMANTHA SMYLIE
Members of the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) coalition took Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), Chairman of the Housing and Real Estate committee, on a trolley tour around Woodlawn. The tour highlighted what has been lost due to disinvestment in the community, what is at stake if the CBA ordinance is not passed and residents’ hopes for a better future.
The tour took place after a study by the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago titled “Protect, Preserve, Produce: Affordable Housing and the Obama Center” showed that low-income households within a two-mile radius around the proposed site for the Obama Presidential Center are at risk of being displaced due to rising rents and home values.
On a warm and sunny afternoon, members of the CBA coalitions, local residents, Osterman and Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) got on the trolley at Jackson Park, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave. As the day carried on, the trolley passed by U. of C.’s new developments in Woodlawn — the Woodlawn Residential and Dining Commons and David M. Rubenstein Forum Conference Center. While on residential streets in Woodlawn, Residents showed the aldermen where Lorraine Hansberry and Mamie Till lived. One of the last stops on the Sept. 17 tour was Daley’s Restaurant, 6257 S. Cottage Grove Ave. — a long-time institution in the neighborhood that was established in 1892.
Tour guide, Ebonée Green of Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), pointed out how prominent figures in the Black community lived alongside everyday people in Woodlawn. Woodlawn’s rich history is a part of America’s national history.
“We want to remember that there are folks that are incredibly important to the national African American story. Mamie Till’s decision to show her son’s body was a great moment and had people come forward about lynching. This neighborhood is key to the national Civil Rights story and as we think about this community being development, we want this to remain a Black community and we want this to be a community where all kinds of people can afford to stay,” Green said.
Residents who lived in the community for over 20 years added a personal touch to the tour as they recount memories of their childhood, the businesses that they remember and how vibrant the community was. Woodlawn was a safe haven for Black residents in a segregated, and often violent, city, Residents expressed how sad they were to see long-time institutions in the neighborhood disappear over time.
Deborah Harrington, who called herself a “native daughter of the Woodlawn community,” showed Osterman where she grew up; the community garden her family and neighbors contributed to; her family’s restaurant at 63rd and Rhodes Ave. — which is now a vacant lot.
“It always breaks my heart to come down here to see where my parents’ restaurant was. My dad’s restaurant was around until the late ‘70s, about 40 years. So, it was a real institution. When I think about how vibrant and busy this street was, this is where I ate every day. I didn’t take meals at home because we lived down the street from the restaurant … This is tragic and this is about disinvestment,” said Harrington.
Rev. Jeffrey Campbell of Woodlawn Baptist Church — which has been a part of the community for nearly 130 years — talked about members of his congregation, majority seniors, who are at risk of being displaced due to high property values or have been displaced.
“I have an 88-year old member who has lived in this community since 1962 and she’s retired and she is thinking about moving,” Campbell said. “She has raised her children, grandchildren, and now her great-grandchildren; she walks (them) to school on a daily basis at the school down the street from her house. She is thinking about moving because, last year, her property taxes were $2,000. This year they are $4,500.
“While $2,500 is not a huge amount of money, when you are on a budget, $200 dollars a month is not going to be met easily.”
As the trolley bus left Woodlawn Baptist Church, Green pointed out homes that are being sold for $700,000 in the 6100 Block of South Ellis Avenue — which many long-time residents of Woodlawn cannot afford.
Kyana Butler of Southside Together Organizing for Power, former resident of Woodlawn who grew up in Woodlawn, said: “Last year in August, I had to move to 79th and Ingleside which is far worse of a neighborhood compared to 62nd and Dorchester, where I used to live. I was there on Dorchester for about two and a half years. Then rent went up all of a sudden. As soon as management changed in the building, I was being told that I owed almost $3,000 because I was being charged an additional $150 aside from the rent that I was already behind in on my own because I couldn’t afford it at the time.”
“Even me now looking for a new apartment, it’ll be outside of Chicago. It’s sad because Woodlawn used to be an affordable area. You used to be able to find a two-bedroom apartment for almost $700 or $600. Now it’s like $900 for a 1-bedroom apartment,” she said.
After a quick stop at Daley’s Restaurant for coffee, peach cobbler and pumpkin pie, Osterman spoke to a few residents about their time in the community.
Once back on the trolley, Taylor spoke about the need for the CBA ordinance to stop displacement in Woodlawn.
“How do we continue to make the same mistakes over and over again instead of listening to the people who are impacted? I’m not on this bus because I’m choosing to be. I live in this community. This is my lived experience,” Taylor said. “I agreed to come on this tour for the people on the coalition, but at the end of the day it is common sense. There is always disinvestment on the south and west sides, any time investment happens it goes ‘Oh, you don’t make this much?’ We are not going to continue in that way.”
As the tour end at Jackson Park, Osterman said that he appreciated the time and effort that organizers took to plan the event and looks forward to following up with them as he and the Housing and Real Estate committee work on the CBA ordinance that was introduced in July by Taylor and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th).
“Today was something that I wanted to do — to come out and listen to the people who live here and the effects. I think the city has many different ways to help support communities and keep communities affordable. I’m committed to working with advocates and the people who are living here to make that happen,” said Osterman. “The Obama library has all of the potential to be a huge positive for the city, for the South Side and I want to make sure that that happens. But I want to make sure that the people and the surrounding communities are able to enjoy the benefits of that.”
“I’m going to work with the housing commissioner, Mayor Lightfoot, the new commissioner of the department of planning and the alderman involved and look at the ordinance. The timetable things are something that we are going to work on,” said Osterman.
When asked if he will participate in other community engagement events in Woodlawn, he said that he will follow-up with the organizers that he met during the tour and those at City Hall and he will continue to work with Taylor and Hairston.
“Alderman Hairston and Taylor are very strong advocates for their community. They speak for the residents and they are very focused on this and passionate about it. I think that they are wonderful spokesman and leaders for their community that is pushing for this and I’m going to work on it,” he said.