Activists disrupt $50-a-plate Logan Square gentrification dinner

By Holly Kane

Justine Bayod Espoz said her organization’s opinions about the rapid development of Logan Square are not welcome by 1st Ward Alderman Joe Moreno.

“He has never, ever sat down with our organization,” said Bayod Espoz, organizer for Somos Logan Square, a non-profit organization. “Joe Moreno will not meet with us, but he will go to a dinner.”

Bayod Espoz was one of about 20 people, some from her organization, who recently carried signs and chanted outside of a private residence where Ald. Joe Moreno, 1st Ward, attended a $50-a-plate “Discussion of Gentrification” dinner.

The event was organized by Paul Sippil, who said his company, Community Dining, aims to hold conversations over shared meals. As for the $50 price tag, something picketers said prohibited real discussion, Sippil said he offered discounted tickets to members of a Facebook group chat, who did not take advantage of the offer.

“They chose to protest instead,” Sippil said.

Picketers chanted “Moreno, Moreno, amigo de los ricos” and “Fifty dollars a plate means my rent is late” while Somos Logan Square organizer Justine Bayod Espoz gave flyers to entering guests and passersby. She said the people affected by the alderman’s policies could not afford the dinner’s $50 price tag.

“Our opinions are not welcome because he’s got developers in his pocket,” said Bayod Espoz, who has lived in her family home in Logan Square since 1988. “How do they not realize that this is entirely inappropriate?”

Paul Donnelly, who said he was forced out of his Logan Square building in 2015 when a developer bought it and doubled the rent, stood near the street to protest what he called Moreno’s support of “luxury development and gentrification in the neighborhood.”

“We’re just here trying to inform people,” said Donnelly, 33. “Let everyone know that’s attending this dinner … what’s going on and who is elected into office and we need to get him out.”

Picketers lined up along the property’s fence holding pieces of a sign saying “Luxury = Displacement.” At the end of the line, holding the “NT,” stood Mark Messing, a neighborhood resident who bought a ticket to the dinner.

“The first thing I have to say when I get inside is that I’m not the person who should be speaking here,” Messing said. “It’s a 50-dollar ticket, so that means that the people who are the most affected, most impacted, by gentrification are not going to be at the table talking.”

Another Somos Logan Square organizer Bianca Mounce, 29, demanded everyone be let in. She and other members approached the porch, where they were met by a gentleman in a black suit who refused to give his name or his association with the event. Eventually, Mounce was allowed in.

“They have no interest in talking to people who have been affected,” Mounce said before entering.

Mounce stayed for the alderman’s discussion, where she said food was laid out buffet style and Moreno spoke about developments on nearby Milwaukee Avenue.

The 5,400-square-foot residence, owned by Gerard Hartman, who told Mounce he couldn’t allow the picketers inside because it wasn’t his event, is valued at $862,690, according to the Cook County Property Tax Portal. Mounce said she was disappointed “folks who had stories to share,” like Alicia, were not let in.

Alicia, who did not want to give her last name because she is applying for housing assistance, moved to Humboldt Park 10 years ago with her two teenage sons. She has seen developers build “crazy studios” and “apartments that nobody can afford” with the help, she said, of Moreno.

“He’s looking out for whoever’s lining his pockets,” Alicia said of the alderman.

Anne Shaw ran for alderman against Moreno in 2015, causing a runoff election. Shaw said her community is losing its “organic” charm due to “rampant overdevelopment.” She said she didn’t trust Moreno’s motives for attending the dinner.

“We don’t trust that he’s going to do the right thing,” Shaw said.

Bhaskar Manda lives a half-mile north of the property and has seen families forced out.

“We have worked with several families here who have been asked to move or who have been asked to pay five or six hundred dollars more a month in rent,” Manda said. “So essentially that’s telling them to get out of the neighborhood.”

East Ukrainian Village resident Matt McWhinney has owned his home for 20 years. He said longtime residents of his neighborhood have been forced out by luxury developments.

“I saw my neighborhood completely change,” McWhinney said. “It’s obvious that the landlord doesn’t want them there.”

Raymond Valadez, Moreno’s chief of staff, said approximately 30 people attended the dinner. Community Dining head Paul Sippil organized the event.

“The Alderman accepted an invitation from a constituent, Mr. Sipil (sic), to speak at a dinner club that he organizes,” Valadez said in an email. “The dinner was priced by Mr. Sipil (sic) to pay for the food that would be served.”

Photo at top: Picketers chant outside a private residence in Logan Square, where Ald. Joe Moreno attended a discussion on gentrification. (Holly Kane/MEDILL)