CHICAGO, IL —The Logan Square community in Chicago recently packed into a meeting just a quarter-mile from a homeless encampment. This public hearing to get 100 units of 100% affordable housing to the middle of one of the hottest real estate markets in the city was the result of tremendous public pressure. For years a large coalition of community groups, churches, and progressive Alderman organized just to get to this point.
Over 600 people jammed into the school gymnasium at Logandale Middle School. Supporters of the project outnumbered the opposition nearly 5 to1. Many people there have been priced out of their housing two or three times by rising rents and property speculators. Some 20,000 Latino families have been driven out in the last ten years. This is a neighborhood where some of those driven out of their homes have frozen to death on the same streets where they once lived. The stakes in this fight are high—it’s the rights of human beings vs. the rights of private property developers.
The meeting was organized so that all could speak. Beautiful plans from the architects and community planners were presented, community members lined up to speak for or against the housing proposal. Green support and Red non-support cards were distributed so that the audience could express their opinions visually instead of with cheers or boos. That did not go according to plan. Every big property owner, real estate agent or landlord in opposition to this development was basically chased off the stage by a community that has suffered long enough!
The city of Chicago has hundreds of millions of dollars allocated for public housing and maintenance from federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) hoarded by Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) that successive corrupt city administrations have kept unavailable for 20 years. That money, through political manipulations and trickery, is kept from those who need housing. Instead the money has been allocated via tax loopholes and other schemes and set-asides to big private property developers. Over $2 billion in city taxpayer dollars was just approved a week before this meeting to be given to a company (Sterling Bay) that will build a gated community for upscale luxury apartments.
Chicago is changing. Its huge industrial base is gone forever. Relatively fewer high tech jobs replace tens of thousands of industrial jobs. Privatization and speculation in real estate drives housing prices outside the reach for over half the city. Of course 100 units of affordable housing is only a drop in the bucket when 80,000 people in the city are homeless and thousands more are housing insecure.
Chicagoans recently went to the polls and mandated change from their politicians. Campaign promises were made to bring resources into the neighborhoods, to stop favoring the elite over the needs of the people. Property speculation is one of the biggest profit making enterprises going these days. So how can we win the battle for housing? We the People can only win when over-taxed homeowners, threatened renters, and the homeless unite in common cause. Housing is a human right that all deserve and it must come first.