All posts by sidneeking2020

The fight for affordability: Woodlawn’s demands for the Mayor’s housing plan

By Sidnee King
Medill Reports

“I am writing to personally and directly share with you the City’s proposals to take advantage of this historic moment, reflect what we heard and partner with you to transform Woodlawn into an even stronger, safer, and more equitable place to call home.”

These are the words of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, penned in a Feb. 25 letter addressed to the entire Woodlawn community. 

Earlier this year, the Department of Housing released a draft ordinance addressing affordable housing protection in the neighborhood after months of stakeholder meetings and public outcry from Woodlawn residents. According to DOH Commissioner Marisa Novara, the aims of the ordinance are to “protect existing residents from displacement and to promote housing options to support equitable and inclusive income diversity in Woodlawn.” 

While it has been nearly a month since the draft was released, there are no announced next steps on the horizon. During a community meeting at Hyde Park High School, where DOH officials discussed the draft plan with residents, Deputy Commissioner Anthony Simpkins said that the plan will not move to a City Council vote until “it has the support of the community.” Continue reading

Alderman Taylor gets candid about Chicago politics during podcast taping

By Sidnee King
Medill Reports

“I hate City Hall, it’s the devil’s den,” said 20th Ward Ald.  Jeanette Taylor at a recent live podcast taping.

As election season ramps up, the conversation on what ideas, policies, and people are truly electable becomes more critical at national and local levels. This discussion was the central component of the first taping of a live podcast series, Unelectable, the product of a partnership between Black Youth Project 100 and Chicago-based podcast AirGo Radio. 

Taylor laid it on the line for the series aimed to engage Chicago voters in deep-dive candor about Chicago politics and the electoral process by inviting city leaders who have made waves in the political sphere. The inaugural taping featured two women behind organizing efforts that captured the entire city’s attention over the last year: Taylor and Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacey Davis Gates.

Taylor took on City Hall and the fight for a Woodlawn community housing agreement as she spoke to attendees that packed out The Silver Room, a black-owned boutique at the corner of East 53rd Street and South Harper Avenue.

AirGo hosts Daniel Kisslinger and Damon Williams began the meeting by inviting the crowd to grab a mic and share policies they believe would be beneficial to Chicago’s population but seem ‘unelectable.’ Williams said the hope for events such as this is to create community forums to flush out their thoughts on “impactful issues dismissed as being too big or unrealistic by mainstream media.” 

The conversation touched on a range of controversies from universal healthcare to housing as a human right, something Taylor spoke about passionately as her ward is presently battling with the city for more affordable housing protections. 

Taylor criticized fellow aldermen for their inactivity on ordinances for low-income housing proposed by community organizers last year. She cited her own experience before she entered the political arena. As a Woodlawn resident, she said she felt underappreciated by the officials that represented her neighborhood and has vowed to engage 20th Ward residents in a way that respects their concerns and their tax dollars.

An example of this is the weekly open office hours that Taylor hosts at the aldermanic office on South Wentworth Avenue every Thursday. She also gives her constituents her personal cell phone number– which she shared with attendees at the end of the event. 

The rookie alderman is a professed “organizer first,” who never saw herself as an elected official. But now that she has a seat in city hall, she says she’s fighting for people in Woodlawn to be able to stay because she doesn’t see herself as any different from the low-income residents in her community. 

Gates also touched on affordable housing, which was a controversial topic during the CTU’s strike negotiations between the Chicago Board of Education and Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Last year, critics admonished CTU leadership for requesting resources for homeless students in its list of demands, but union leadership didn’t back down on the issue.

During the panel discussion, Gates was adamant that a student’s housing-security is directly related to education, and educators should not be told that it’s not in their job description to be concerned. 

“Don’t apologize for it,” she said. 

Gates also encouraged the attendees to continue to organize around the changes that they had earlier expressed they’d like to see in Chicago. 

This wasn’t Black Youth Project 100’s first time partnering with Taylor or Gates. The organization aligned itself with Taylor and the coalition sponsoring the proposed community benefits agreement with the Obama Foundation in hopes of preventing rent and property tax hikes that could displace close to 40% of Woodlawn’s residents when the Obama Presidential Library opens. BYP100 also supported CTU in its teachers strike last fall. 

Photo at top: AirGo hosts Damon Williams (left) and Daniel Kisslinger (right) open the floor to discuss electoral politics in Chicago at the first taping of their ‘Unelectable’ series. (Sidnee King/MEDILL)

Black Creativity exhibit links Chicago students with innovative careers

By Sidnee King
Medill Reports

The Museum of Science and Industry wrapped up its celebration of black history month with a Career Showcase highlighting black innovators and entrepreneurs across Chicagoland.

The showcase for the museum’s 50th Annual Black Creativity Exhibit has evolved as a tribute to the culture, heritage and contributions of African Americans in the arts since 1970.

MSI Special Programs Coordinator Dulce Enriquez organized this year’s event. She said the museum continues to connect black innovators in STEM and the arts to Chicago’s youth in hopes that they can one day “see themselves behind that career station.” Continue reading Black Creativity exhibit links Chicago students with innovative careers

Woodlawn stakeholders say city’s affordable housing plan isn’t affordable for all

By Sidnee King
Medill Reports

Woodlawn community organizers and local officials called for assurances during a Ward Night meeting Thursday that a new city housing ordinance will protect Woodlawn families living at the poverty line from displacement.

On January 7, the Chicago Committee on Housing and Real Estate passed an ordinance that authorized the city to purchase seven vacant properties in Woodlawn previously owned by neighborhood titan Rev. Leon Finney.
The properties were acquired by one of the city’s development partners, Communities Inc., for just over $3 million when Finney’s company Woodlawn Community Development Corporation auctioned the lots off in bankruptcy last year.

According to a spokesperson from the Department of Housing and Development, the properties will be entered into the Troubled Buildings Initiative — which reclaims abandoned or dilapidated buildings — and set aside for affordable housing in the area.
Continue reading

Woodlawn residents still not on board as city rolls out housing plan

By Sidnee King
Medill Reports

Residents and city officials met in open forum Thursday at Hyde Park Academy High school to flesh out the city’s affordable housing proposal days after 20th Ward Ald. Jeanette Taylor publicly slammed Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan.

Amid a whirlwind of debate about how to preserve affordable housing in Woodlawn, Chicago Housing Commissioner Marisa Navaro hosted an open house at 6220 S. Stony Island Ave. to share the city’s proposal with residents— many of whom came prepared to express their disapproval.

“The housing plan lacks specificity,” said Marilyn Massey. The retired nurse who’s lived in Woodlawn for over 30 years said that she’d like to see specific targets for Woodlawn’s west side where she owns a home and a concrete timeline for the plan’s deliverables.

Several representatives from the Department of Planning and Development and the Department of Housingattended the open house. The school’s cafeteria was set up with large posters outlining key points stationed across the room, and officials available to answer questions as attendees perused.

Just two days earlier, on Jan. 28, the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition hosted a forum that brought residents and community organizers together at Harris Park on the corner of 63rd and Cottage Grove Avenues. The forum focused on preventing the displacement of Woodlawn’s most vulnerable class of citizens and highlighting what the coalition saw as weaknesses in the city’s proposal.

During the forum, Taylor publicly expressed her dissatisfaction with the plan. “Me and the city are at odds,” she told the packed auditorium.

According to data from the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center at at the University of Illinois at Chicago, close to half of Woodlawn household earn less than $25,000 per year. The CBA coalition presented a plan to the City Council last July outlining steps to keep Woodlawn’s low-income renters in their homes. The city’s response has some key differences that Taylor and organizers are pushing back on:

Woodlawn Housing Feedback
City officials collected feedback from residents posted on sticky notes throughout the room
  1. The CBA coalition caps its affordability definition at $40,000 per year for a family of four. The city’s affordability cap is more than $60,000 for a family of four.
  2. CBA organizers want to see 100% of city-owned vacant land in Woodlawn  set aside for affordable housing. The city’s plan hasn’t made any commitments to setting aside a specific percentage of city-owned land
  3.  Communities such as Kenwood and South Shore would also fall under the CBA’s two-mile radius coverage from the Obama Presidential Center site. The city’s plan concentrates coverage to just within a half-mile of the site.

LeAaron Foley, a newer resident, didn’t share the same skepticism.

“I love the attention that Woodlawn is getting,” Foley said. The 30-year-old moved to Woodlawn in the summer of 2018 after purchasing a home and a vacant lot next door in the community’s southwest quadrant,” he said.

“We have 12 representatives here from the housing department and the department of planning and development ready to hear our ideas. What more could you ask for?”

City officials didn’t take questions from the press during Thursday’s event. Don Terry, Director of Communications for the Department of Housing, said that there’s no official date for another meeting with the public. 

Photo at top:Residents expressed concerns and points of uncertainty to city officials during commissioner Navaro’s open house. (Sidnee King/MEDILL)