Some residents of Chicago’s South Side worry that its most famous son is about to gentrify the neighborhood.
Anti-displacement activists recently announced a list of demands they’re making to former President Barack Obama, who once represented some South Side neighborhoods as a state legislator and U.S. Senator, and who worked in them as a community activist. The demands, according to Insider, are focused on his soon-to-be-built presidential library, which some activists say could bring with it new development that drives up housing costs and taxes and would force residents who were once Obama’s biggest supporters out of their homes.
Their demands include developing affordable housing from the city-owned vacant lots in a neighborhood whose residents are predominantly low-income and Black, as well as allocating money to the Chicago Low-Income Trust Fund for subsidized units in the area. The coalition is also calling for expanded tenant protections, including the establishment of a Tenant Opportunity to Purchase program, and greater Fair Notice protections. These measures would shield tenants from arbitrary punishment.
Potential and current homeowners would also be protected. The policy demands include apportioning funds to provide grants and down-payment assistance for South Shore residents, forgiving the $2.3 million tax debt owed by primarily low-income residents.
Obama’s library, officially named the Barack Obama Presidential Center, kicked off construction in August in Chicago’s Jackson Park, a roughly 550-acre public space in the city’s Woodlawn neighborhood. It’s expected to cost an estimated $482 million. Besides the smoke from activists about whether the library will push out longtime residents, there’s also been controversy about the fact that all of its records will be digitized, unlike other presidential libraries.
Woodlawn is a historic neighborhood with deep ties to the Black American experience since the early 20th century, including a history of redlining and housing discrimination that runs so deep that it’s been mentioned on an episode of John Oliver’s weekly HBO show and in writer Ta-Nehisi Coates seminal work laying out why African-Americans are due reparations.
With that history in mind, some South Siders want to ensure that the library won’t start another chapter of Black displacement on the South Side.