CHICAGO — Despite the many benefits of an Obama Presidential Center in Jackon Park, fears remain over spiking real estate prices and gentrification in the surrounding neighborhoods.
While the Obamas and city officials broke ground on the new Presidential Center Tuesday, a group of concerned citizens, many of whom were life-long residents of neighborhoods like South Shore and Washington Park, spoke out amid fears rising rents would force them out.
“You can cut the ribbon but don’t cut us out,” said South Shore resident Dixon Romeo. “This is our community. We should be able to stay.”
Romeo, along with members of the Community Benefits Agreement Coalition, rallied on the corner of 61st & Stony Island in hopes that former President Barack Obama and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot would hear their concerns.
“If we don’t stand up for ourselves, nobody in this city is going to stand up for us but us,” said Woodlawn resident Sharon Payne.
Shannon Bennett with the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization was among the group demanding more from Chicago city council members, who passed a community benefits ordinance last year. Many say the regulation is not enough, however.
“We want to make sure Mayor Lightfoot keeps her promise,” Bennett said. “What we need from her is a commitment to identify where those lots will be. She’s yet to do that.”
When it comes to empty lots and new projects, such as a Woodlawn development with dozens of affordably-priced units, Chicago’s Department of Housing said more is on the way in surrounding neighborhoods. For example, there’s a $7 million Woodlawn loan fund and the 58-unit mixed-income building at 63rd & Maryland. Additionally, the city focused on preserving existing affordable housing stock known as the “PEAR” program. There’s also financial assistance for purchasing affordable multi-family buildings with 20% of the units affordable for renters with other housing initiatives on Chicago’s South Shore.
Latoya Clay, a trained chef and owner of “Crown Deserts,” says she’s optimistic the Presidential Center will be good for the community.
“I think it’s opportunity for everyone,” Clay said.