‘Can’t stay anymore’: Residents near new Obama Center fear being pushed out by gentrification

https://www.yahoo.com/news/benefit-were-not-anymore-obama-083016708.html

‘Can’t stay anymore’: Residents near new Obama Center fear being pushed out by gentrification

By Safia Samee Ali

October 19, 2021

CHICAGO — Less than 3 miles from where former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama broke ground last week on their long-awaited presidential center on the South Side of Chicago, Tahiti Hamer lies awake at night thinking about the limited time she and her family have left in the neighborhood where she’s lived her whole life.

Following the announcement of the center in 2015, neighborhoods adjacent to the 19-acre planned site have seen skyrocketing rents and housing prices, and Hamer, 42, a single mother of three, is one of several facing displacement.

Hamer, a teacher at a local YMCA, said she’s tried to buy a home for the last two years, but it’s been out of reach in her neighborhood. She found a house she could afford 12 miles south.

“I do not want to leave. I want to stay, but I’m barely keeping my head above water now,” she said. Hamer’s rent has gone up from $800 to $1,000, and she said her landlord has already told her there’s another $100 hike coming because the area is “coming back up.”

“It’s sad that the place that I’ve lived my whole life I can’t stay in anymore,” she said. “And once I leave, it will be impossible to ever come back. It’s the same story with so many people in this community.”

Despite the Obama Presidential Center being built for the benefit of historically underprivileged communities of color, housing experts say without timely and robust housing protections, it may become a catalyst for displacement, pushing out the residents it intended to help.

The location of the ambitious project was chosen to honor the former first couple’s roots and boasts a library, museum and activity center costing more than $500 million.

Demand has already boomed, with housing costs increasing at a higher rate in areas surrounding the proposed center than citywide since 2016, according to a 2019 study by the University of Illinois Chicago.

Much of the existing community is low-income, with many paying more than they can afford for their monthly housing costs, the study reported, and “eviction rates are some of the highest in the city with South Shore being the highest, averaging 1,800 a year, which is about 9 percent of renters.”

“This very much follows the script of how gentrification works,” said Winifred Curran, a professor of geography and sustainable urban development at DePaul University. “The Obama center is kind of like a signal to developers to get real estate now for cheap, and then the profit potential is huge. That’s what gentrification is, and unless you very specifically do things to keep housing affordable to make property accessible to long-term residents, you’re going to see displacement.”

The battle between residents who live around the site and the city of Chicago has been ongoing for the last six years, but many say they are still waiting for significant aid.

Dixon Romeo, a lifelong South Shore resident and organizer with theObama Community Benefits Agreement Coalition, a resident-based group formed in 2016 to help fight displacement, said residents are not against the Obama center but instead are looking for help, so they will be around to enjoy it.

“How can we benefit from it if we’re not there anymore?” he said. “This is the community that sent President Obama to Springfield. This is the community that sent him to the Senate. This is the community that sent him to the White House, and we should be the community that gets to stay for the presidential center.”

After intense pushback from the coalition, the city passed the Woodlawn Housing Preservation Ordinance last year, which promises to help one neighborhood, which sits directly across from the site, with $4.5 million in affordable housing programs, a requirement that at least 30 percent of new apartments be made affordable to “very low-income households” and a provision that allows renters a “right of first refusal” if their landlord decides to sell the building, among other things.

But Dixon, 27, said residents still haven’t seen any significant changes with the ordinance and that it falls short by not including South Shore and other surrounding neighborhoods that are also feeling financial impacts from the center. He, along with the coalition, is asking the city to implement protections for other neighborhoods.

In a statement to NBC News, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office said “since taking office in 2019, the Lightfoot Administration and the newly reformed Department of Housing (DOH) have been committed to working with Woodlawn and all other communities to develop plans for growth that increase opportunity for all and consider the diverse perspectives of everyone. In just two years, the City worked with community stakeholders in Woodlawn, including a 40-member working group of advocates, residents and community organizers, to address displacement and the need for additional affordable housing so that all residents can benefit from the investment that the Obama Presidential Center will bring to the South Side.”

The office also said “DOH is working with Alderwoman Hairston and other stakeholders on several developments and opportunities,” in South Shore.

While more affordable housing is always a good thing, the first step is to make sure people who already have affordable housing don’t lose it, Curran said.

“A lot of times we’re playing a cat-and-mouse gentrification game. Something happens, causes a big spike in rents, people get displaced, and then all of a sudden the city says, ‘Oh, my God, we should have done something with affordable housing,’” she said.

Time is running out. The longer the city drags its feet in providing affordable housing, the more people will be displaced, while gentrification just makes the land more expensive — which means the affordable housing budget will cover fewer units, she said.

“If you’re going to do these things, you have to do them right away because you lose momentum, and at a certain point, what happens is that all the activists who fought for these things get displaced themselves,“ she said. “So they have no one keeping the city accountable for their promises.”

While rent control would be a strong solution to help renters with low income, Illinois prohibits municipalities from passing rent control ordinances under the Rent Control Preemption Act passed in 1997. What they can do is offer property tax breaks to help landlords who already are providing affordable housing, and other subsidies for utilities and bills, she said.

Stacey Sutton, a professor of urban planning and policy and the University of Illinois Chicago, said the issue around the Obama center is not novel for any city, and it’s the same lower-income Black and brown people that disproportionately bear the burden when development takes place largely because class and race are so intertwined.

A 2020 study by Stanford University showed Black residents have more constraints and fewer options of neighborhoods they can move to compared to their white counterparts and that minority communities disproportionately feel the negative effects of gentrification.

“We think of the neighborhoods that we may visit and enjoy, but there’s a full erasure of the history of a lot of those places. Years later, we’ll look back and we won’t remember who lived there, and that’s the erasure,” Sutton said.

“I think the problem with large-scale development, there’s always some downsides, but you try to mitigate the downside. You try to mitigate the adverse effects. And so there are better ways of doing that, and this was not a better way of doing it right,” she said.

Tahiti Hamer is still holding out hope that she’ll be able to stay in the neighborhood that she feels is a part of her, but she knows time is running thin for her.

“I feel like I’m being forced out,” she said. “How can I not afford a home in my own community where I lived for 42 years? It’s unreal and just so unfair.”

October 19, 2021. Tags: , , , , , . Barack Obama, Housing. 1 comment.

Obama Presidential Center will displace vital South Side Chicago trees, advocates say

https://www.ehn.org/barack-obama-presidential-center-chicago-2654814450.html

Obama Presidential Center will displace vital South Side Chicago trees, advocates say

The Center will remove hundreds of trees that provide cooling in the summer, cleaner air, and a quiet respite for residents—but promises to re-plant the area and provide an economic boost.

By Krystal Vasquez

August 31, 2021

On August 16, the Obama Foundation started work on the Obama Presidential Center, but without the fanfare that one might expect. Over the past five years, the Center’s South Side Chicago location has prompted multiple lawsuits and a recent Supreme Court petition.

It’s not that Chicagoans don’t want the Center—many seem excited for the economic opportunities it will bring. Rather, opponents, like the non-profit organization Protect our Parks, do not want the Center built in Jackson Park, where they say it will cause “irreparable” environmental harm.

An Obama Foundation spokesperson told EHN in an email that many of the trees are currently dead or in poor health. However, the 2018 survey of the area, performed by experts hired by the Foundation, states that only 64 trees currently need to be removed from the area due to their condition or suboptimal locations.

The spokesperson said current design calls “for more trees than exist on the site today” and that there are plans to increase the biodiversity of the species. This will include bird- and pollinator-friendly plant selections that will benefit the wildlife that frequents the area.

But “one tree does not equal one tree,” David Nowak, an emeritus senior scientist with the U.S. Forest Service, told EHN, explaining that the environmental benefits derived from a large tree are 60 to 70 times greater than smaller trees.

He also added that planting new trees comes with a risk. “There’s no guarantee that the young tree is going to survive,” he explained. “New trees have a fairly high mortality rate before they get established.”

Designing with creativity

Protect Our Park and other community members are pushing for the Center to be relocated to nearby Washington Park. “It’s relatively treeless,” said Hoyt, who points out that there are also many vacant lots in the area that the Foundation could build on.

“It would bring the same amount of jobs [and] it would bring more tourism” since it’s near a major train line, she added. “And we get to save…our safe space” and the environmental benefits it provides.

That said, if the Center stays in Jackson Park, Wolf wonders if there is a way to integrate some of the existing trees into the development. “Design is about creativity,” she said, “yet the first move is to remove the trees [and] create this blank slate of a parcel.”

Positioned between the University of Chicago and Lake Michigan, Jackson Park is a 550-acre green space in the southeastern edge of the city, used for everything from family get-togethers to sporting events.

The park’s lush tree canopy is a refuge from the sweltering summer heat, which has been growing increasingly worse due to climate change. Trees can reduce local temperatures by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit. “We go [to Jackson Park] to be cooler, to be comfortable as we hang out,” Jeannette Hoyt, director of CCAM Research Partners and former resident of the area, told EHN, adding that many of the nearby residents can’t afford air conditioning. Hoyt is not affiliated with Protect our Parks.

However, if the Center’s construction continues as planned, some of those trees will come down. According to a 2020 Environmental Assessment of the area conducted by the National Park Service, the project will remove 326 trees at the site of the Center, along with an additional 463 trees due to project-related construction, including transportation improvements and relocation of the park’s track and field.

Aside from their cooling effect, the environmental benefit of trees in this area also include the removal of roughly 22 tons of carbon dioxide and 342 pounds of air pollution each year, according to a 2018 survey of the area. The latter is especially important in a city that is ranked as the 16th most polluted city in the US for ozone pollution and whose asthma rates surpass national averages.

Trees also benefit our mental health, Kathleen Wolf, a research social scientist at the University of Washington, told EHN.

“Short amounts of time in nature can help us to restore our minds, and not just make us feel better, but actually reduce potential aggression, reduce irritation, reduce anxiety,” she said.

“One tree does not equal one tree”

Gentrification concerns

The battle is still ongoing, creating a conversation that goes beyond trees. Local communities fear this construction project will gentrify the area, displacing the predominantly Black residents. On the other hand, there’s the benefit of tourism and jobs that the Center has promised to provide.

“I certainly couldn’t say which is better, said Nowak. “It depends what the [local] people want.”

Still, he hopes that as this debate continues the value of these trees isn’t discarded. “There’s a cost associated—not just removing the trees—but the cost of the loss of benefits that would have been there.”

October 19, 2021. Tags: , , , . Barack Obama, Environmentalism. Leave a comment.

Chicago community organizers accuse Chicago community organizer Barack Obama of not practicing what he preaches

Before Barack Obama ran for political office, he was a community organizer in Chicago.

Now that he is an ex-President, he is planning to build his presidential library in Chicago.

However, the city’s other community organizers have accused Obama of not practicing what he preaches.

The Washington Post reports:

In what local pundits are calling the irony of ironies, Obama — who cut his teeth as a South Side community organizer — is now in the bull’s eye of the area’s community organizers.

Dozens of groups have asked the city, the Obama Foundation and the University of Chicago (the official library host) to sign a legally binding pledge to protect low-income housing and homeowners, set aside 80 percent of jobs for immediate neighbors and bolster support for black-owned businesses, among other things.

At a community meeting last month, Obama said he wasn’t interested, according to the Chicago Tribune. Agreements such as those, he said, can be highly successful for communities dealing with for-profit developers.

“But here’s the thing,” he said. “We are a nonprofit and aren’t making money. We are just bringing money to the community.”

 

December 26, 2017. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Barack Obama. 1 comment.