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)